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Consequences of sequential attack for resistance to herbivores when plants have specific induced responses


  • D. V. Viswanathan,

  • O. A. Lifchits,

  • J. S. Thaler

D. V. Viswanathan and O. A. Lifchits, Univ. of Toronto, 25 Willcocks Street, Toronto, Canada, M5S 3B2. – J. S. Thaler (, Depts of Entomology and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Cornell Univ., 4138 Comstock Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Plants in nature are attacked sequentially by herbivores, and theory predicts that herbivore-specific responses allow plants to tailor their defenses. We present a novel field test of this hypothesis, and find that specific responses of Solanum dulcamara lead to season-long consequences for two naturally colonizing herbivores, irrespective of the second herbivore to attack plants. This result indicates that responses induced by the initial herbivore made plants less responsive to subsequent attack. We show that initial herbivory by flea beetles and tortoise beetles induce distinct plant chemical responses. Initial herbivory by flea beetles lowered the occurrence of conspecifics and tortoise beetles relative to controls. Conversely, initial herbivory by tortoise beetles did not influence future herbivory. Remarkably, the experimentally imposed second herbivore to feed on plants did not modify consequences (induced resistance or lack thereof) of the first attacker. Induction of plant chemical responses was consistent with these ecological effects; i.e. the second herbivore did not modify the plant's initial induced response. Thus, canalization of the plant resistance phenotype may constrain defensive responses in a rapidly changing environment.