Induced defences in plants reduce herbivory by increasing cannibalism

Abstract

Plants are attacked by myriad herbivores, and many plants exhibit anti-herbivore defences. We tested the hypothesis that induced defences benefit tomato plants by encouraging insects to eat other members of their species. We found that defences that promote cannibalism benefit tomatoes in two ways: cannibalism directly reduces herbivore abundance, and cannibals eat significantly less plant material. This previously unknown means of defence may alter plant–herbivore dynamics, plant evolution and pathogen transmission.

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Figure 1: Induced defences in plants lead to increased rates of cannibalism among herbivores, which result in significant decreases in losses of plant biomass.

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Acknowledgements

Comments from E. Preisser and E. Damschen greatly improved the manuscript. We appreciate artwork by B. Feeny. J.O. was hosted by the Department of Biology at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) while writing the manuscript; VCU Biology, the Johnson, Vonesh and Damschen laboratories kindly shared space and equipment for conducting experiments.

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J.O. conceived the study; J.O. and B.C. designed the study; A.K.,  B.C. and J.O. conducted the experiments; J.O. performed all analyses and led manuscript preparation; B.C. and A.K. contributed to manuscript revision.

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Correspondence to John Orrock.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Materials

Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Results, Supplementary References, Supplementary Figures 1–5

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Orrock, J., Connolly, B. & Kitchen, A. Induced defences in plants reduce herbivory by increasing cannibalism. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 1205–1207 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-017-0231-6

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