Importance of tolerance to herbivory for plant survival in a British grassland


  • Nomenclature: Stace (1997).

Corresponding author and current address: CASEB, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, casilla 114-D, Santiago, Chile; Fax 5626862621; E-mail


Question: Is plant capacity to regrow under different herbivore treatments related to herbivore increaser/decreaser plant status?

Location: Grassland in Southeast England (GR 41/944691).

Methods: A field experiment was established in order to understand the role of plant tolerance to herbivory in explaining the abundance of nine grassland species previously known as herbivore increasers or decreasers. Tolerance was measured as a plant's capacity to regrow after exposure to herbivores. The experiment was designed to measure the impact of rabbits, molluscs, insects and clipping (artificial damage). Plants were propagated by stolons, exposed to different treatments in the field and then allowed to recover in the greenhouse for a month.

Results: Previous studies have stated that plants that are able to persist in a herbivore environment could be tolerant or resistant, in agreement with the later our results showed that rabbit increaser plants were tolerant to herbivory in terms of biomass regrowth. Nonetheless, insect and mollusc increasers did not show any particular pattern related to plant compensation and some decreaser species were intolerant.

Conclusions: This study shows that tolerance to herbivory could be an important mechanism for rabbit increaser species survival in grazed ecosystems.