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Precipitation affects plant communication and defense.

  • Author(s): Pezzola, Enrico
  • Mancuso, Stefano
  • Karban, Richard
  • et al.

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Anti-herbivore defense shows high levels of both inter- and intraspecific variability. Defending against herbivores may be costly to the plant when it requires a tradeoff in allocation between defense and other missed opportunities, such as reproduction. Indeed, the plastic expression of defensive traits allows the plant to invest resources in defense only when the risk of being damaged actually increases, avoiding wasted resources. Plants may assess risk by responding to volatile cues emitted by neighbors that are under attack. Most plastic responses likely depend on environmental conditions. In this experiment, we investigated the effect of water availability on resistance induced by volatile cues in sagebrush. We found that plants receiving additional water over summer and/or volatile cues from neighbor donor plants showed reduced herbivore damage compared to control plants. Interestingly, we found no evidence of interactions between additional water and volatile cues. We performed an inferential analysis comparing historical records of the levels of herbivore damage during different years that had different temperature and precipitation accumulations. Results confirmed findings from the experiment, as the regression model indicated that sagebrush was better defended during wetter and hotter seasons. Reports from the literature indicated that sagebrush is extremely sensitive to water availability in the soil. We suggest that water availability may directly affect resistance of herbivory as well as sensitivity to cues of damage. Costs and benefits of allocating resources to defensive traits may vary with environmental conditions.

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