• Manduca sexta;
  • fatty acid–amino acid conjugates (FACs);
  • image analysis;
  • nicotine;
  • plant defence;
  • plant–insect interactions;
  • trichomes


Many studies demonstrate resource-based trade-offs between growth and defence on a large timescale. Yet, the short-term dynamics of this growth reaction are still completely unclear, making it difficult to explain growth-defence trade-offs mechanistically. In this study, image-based non-destructive methods were used to quantify root growth reactions happening within hours following simulated herbivore attack. The induction of wound reactions in Nicotiana attenuata in the seedling stage led to transiently decreased root growth rates. Application of the oral secretion of the specialist herbivore Manduca sexta to the leaves led to a transient decrease in root growth that was more pronounced than if a mere mechanical wounding was imposed. Root growth reduction was more pronounced than leaf growth reduction. When fatty acid–amino acid conjugates (FACs) were applied to wounds, root growth reduction occurred in the same intensity as when oral secretion was applied. Timing of the transient growth reduction coincided with endogenous bursts of jasmonate (JA) and ethylene emissions reported in literature. Simulation of a wound response by applying methyl jasmonate (MeJA) led to more prolonged negative effects on root growth. Increased nicotine concentrations, trichome lengths and densities were observed within 72 h in seedlings that were treated with MeJA or that were mechanically wounded. Overall, these reactions indicate that even in a very early developmental stage, the diversion of plant metabolism from primary (growth-sustaining) to secondary (defence-related) metabolism can cause profound alterations of plant growth performance.