• Colletotrichum gloeosporioides;
  • direct defence;
  • multiple defence syndrome;
  • plant–pathogen interaction;
  • plant resistance;
  • polyphenol oxidase;
  • PPO;
  • trade-off


1. Plants are simultaneously attacked by multiple herbivores and pathogens. While some plant defences act synergistically, others trade-off against each other. Such trade-offs among resistances to herbivores and pathogens are usually explained by the costs of resistance, i.e. resource limitations compromising a plant’s overall defence.

2. Here, we demonstrate that trade-offs can also result from direct negative interactions among defensive traits. We studied cyanogenesis (release of HCN) of lima bean (Fabaceae: Phaseolus lunatus) and effects of this efficient anti-herbivore defence on resistance to a fungal pathogen (Melanconiaceae: Colletotrichum gloeosporioides).

3. Leaf tissue destruction by fungal growth was significantly higher on high cyanogenic (HC) lima bean accessions than on low cyanogenic (LC) plants. The susceptibility of HC accessions to the fungal pathogen was strongly correlated to reduced activity of resistance-associated polyphenol oxidases (PPOs) in leaves of these plants. LC accessions, in contrast, showed high PPO activity, which was correlated with distinct resistance to C. gloeosporioides.

4. Experimentally applied, gaseous HCN reduced PPO activity and significantly increased the size of lesions caused by C. gloeosporioides in LC leaves.

5. Field observations of a wild lima bean population in Mexico revealed a higher infection rate of HC compared to LC plant individuals. The types of lesions observed on the different cyanogenic plants in nature were similar to those observed on HC and LC plants in the laboratory.

6.Synthesis. We suggest that cyanogenesis of lima bean directly trades off with plant defence against fungal pathogens and that the causal mechanism is the inhibition of PPOs by HCN. Our findings provide a functional explanation for the observed phenomenon of the low resistance of HC lima beans in nature.