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Keywords:

  • anti-herbivore defence;
  • biomechanics;
  • motion camouflage;
  • multifunctionality;
  • passive plant movements;
  • plant–herbivore interactions;
  • plant volatiles

Plants employ various defensive tactics against herbivores but are rarely considered to use rapid movements to resist predation. However, the aboveground parts of plants are often forcefully moved by wind and rain. This passive movement has been overlooked as an anti-herbivore trait. The leaves of many plant species, such as aspens, Indian sacred fig, bamboos, and palms, tremble even in a slight breeze. Leaves that are easily moved by gentle winds can sometimes resist strong winds and may have other benefits as well. In the present study, it is proposed that the movement of such plant leaves physically deters arthropod herbivory and pathogen infection by repelling colonization and oviposition by herbivorous insects. This leads to herbivores and pathogens being dislodged from the plants, and the ensuing death of the herbivores on the ground or at least their recolonization to other plants, as well as the interruption of feeding, intraspecific communication and the mating behaviour of herbivores, thus lowering their performance on the plant or increasing enemy attack of the herbivores. In addition, passive leaf movements may undermine herbivore camouflage and expose them to predation, and may also allow plant volatiles to diffuse efficiently to repel herbivores and attract natural enemies. Thus, the mechanistic properties of these leaves may have anti-herbivore effects in the wind and rain. This hypothesis can also be applied to aquatic plants that tremble in gentle water currents. In addition, genetic manipulation of the tendency for leaf movement may be beneficial for the management of pest insects and pathogens with reduced pesticides in forestry and agriculture. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 104, 738–747.