Decreased structural defence of an invasive thistle under warming


  • Editor
    N. V. Dam

R. Zhang, Department of Biology, 208 Mueller Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.


Plant structural defences play a key role in preventing fitness loss due to herbivory. However, how structural defences are affected by potential climate change is rarely examined. We examined how leaf morphological traits that relate to the structural defence of an invasive thistle, Carduus nutans, change in a warmer climate. We manipulated warming using open-top chambers (OTCs) and examined the morphology of leaves at three different positions (the 5th, 10th and 15th leaves, counted from the top of the plant) in two destructive summer censuses. We found that structural defence traits were different under ambient versus warmed conditions. Prickle densities (both the number of prickles per leaf area and the number of prickles per leaf mass) were significantly lower in plants grown in a warmer climate. Our results suggest that plant structural defences may be reduced under warming, and therefore should be considered when examining species’ responses to climate change.