The ecology and evolution of induced resistance against herbivores


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1. Induced resistance is now widely accepted as a potent and widespread ecological force although several pieces of the story remain very poorly known. Theory predicts that induced defences should be favoured in variable environments especially when plants can use cues to reliably predict future conditions; however, this idea has not been seriously evaluated for plants.

2. Theory also predicts that plastic, induced defences should be favoured over permanent, constitutive defences if defences are costly and not always needed. This hypothesis has received considerable attention and limited support; resource allocation costs have been difficult to detect although ecological costs of defence may be more common. Recently, priming has emerged as a mechanism that may further reduce costs. Primed plants do not immediately produce the gene products associated with induced resistance but later respond more rapidly and strongly to severe or repeated attacks. It remains to be determined how common priming is.

3. Much of what we know about induced resistance is from the herbivore’s point of view. Induced resistance will be beneficial from the plant’s point of view if herbivores avoid induced plants, but the behavioural responses of herbivores to induced plant variation are still poorly studied.

4. Recent progress in understanding the detailed spatial and temporal extent of induced resistance has improved our appreciation of the phenomenon. Although some induced responses are systemic throughout entire plant individuals, many others have been found to be localized to damaged tissues. Plant vascular architecture and transpiration rates greatly constrain the distribution of vascular cues. Some plants rely on volatile cues that are active over relatively short distances and may be subject to eavesdropping by other plants, herbivores, and carnivores. Similarly, the temporal duration of induced responses may have important consequences on effectiveness although limited information is available concerning lag times before induction and relaxation times following induction.

5. Limited spatial and temporal scales of induced responses make plants more variable from the herbivore’s point of view. Recent work suggests that plant heterogeneity may be difficult for herbivores to cope with although this hypothesis awaits further empirical testing.