Lymantria dispar herbivory induces rapid changes in carbon transport and partitioning in Populus nigra


*Correspondence and present address: Benjamin A. Babst, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University, 1400 Townsend Drive, U. J. Noblet Building, Houghton, MI 49931, USA. E-mail:


We tested for rapid changes in photosynthate transport and partitioning in response to Lymantria dispar (L.) (Lepidoptera: Lymantriidae) (gypsy moth) herbivory in Populus nigra L. (Salicaceae). Transport and partitioning of [11C]-photosynthate from young mature leaves were measured in vivo before and 18 h after leaf chewing by gypsy moth larvae, which were caged on three older leaves. Following herbivory, there was an increase in export speed of recently fixed carbon from younger mature leaves. The increased export speed was due to a quicker transit time of 11C through the leaf, rather than a change in transport speed through the phloem. Additionally, basipetal partitioning of [11C]-photosynthate was increased following herbivory. Neither of these changes was observed in control plants. This enhancement of export occurs even though herbivores are well known to induce increases in carbon allocation to secondary metabolites within leaves. Our results demonstrate that the use of non-destructive imaging of 11C tracer is a powerful tool for examining plant responses to herbivory. Although the mechanisms underlying the rapid increase in carbon flux to stems and roots remain to be elucidated, our results raise the possibility of a coordinated whole plant response to herbivory. Thus, even when the herbivore specializes on only one plant tissue type, a whole plant approach may be key to understanding how plants respond to herbivory.