Herbivore-induced shifts in carbon and nitrogen allocation in red oak seedlings


  • Christopher J. Frost,

    1. Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-2202, USA;
    2. Center for Chemical Ecology and Schatz Center for Tree Molecular Genetics, Department of Entomology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA;
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  • Mark D. Hunter

    1. Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-2202, USA;
    2. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology & School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA
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Author for correspondence:
Christopher J. Frost
Tel:+1 814 865 1895
Fax:+1 814 865 3048
Email: cfrost@psu.edu


  • • A dual-isotope, microcosm experiment was conducted with Quercus rubra (red oak) seedlings to test the hypothesis that foliar herbivory would increase belowground carbon allocation (BCA), carbon (C) rhizodeposition and nitrogen (N) uptake. Plant BCA links soil ecosystems to aboveground processes and can be affected by insect herbivores, though the extent of herbivore influences on BCA is not well understood in woody plants.
  • • Microcosms containing 2-yr-old Q. rubra seedlings and soil collected from the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory (NC, USA) were subjected to herbivory or left as undamaged controls. All microcosms were then injected with 15N-glycine and pulsed with 13CO2.
  • • Contrary to our hypothesis, herbivore damage reduced BCA to fine roots by 63% and correspondingly increased allocation of new C to foliage. However, 13C recoveries in soil pools were similar between treatments, suggesting that exudation of C from roots is an actively regulated component of BCA. Herbivore damage also reduced N allocation to fine roots by 39%, apparently in favor of storage in taproot and stem tissues.
  • • Oak seedlings respond to moderate insect herbivore damage with a complex suite of allocation shifts that may simultaneously increase foliar C, maintain C rhizodeposition and N assimilation, and shift N resources to storage.