Impacts of Herbivory on Photosynthesis of Four Common Wisconsin Plant Species

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University of Notre Dame Department of Biological Sciences

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American Midland Naturalist

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DOI: 10.1674/0003-0031-187.1.14


Overcompensation to herbivory is prevalent among plant species. However, we do not yet fully understand why plant species vary in their compensatory abilities. It is highly likely that overcompensation is determined by the ability of plants to elevate photosynthesis in response to herbivory, which is dictated by evolutionary exposure to grazing. Here, we tested the hypothesis that photosynthetic overcompensation should be predictable based on plant life form by simulating herbivore damage on four plant species: two common range grasses with long evolutionary exposure to grazing (Andropogon gerardii, Bouteloua curtipendula) and two common understory forbs that are resistant to, and therefore experience little, grazing (Alliaria petiolata, Symplocarpus foetidus). We measured leaf-level gas exchange in a high-resolution time series that extended throughout the growing season. We found no evidence of photosynthetic compensation for three of the four plant species. Interestingly, only A. petiolata, a highly invasive species, demonstrated increased photosynthesis and stomatal conductance following clipping. Further, the effects were short-lived, as both photosynthesis and stomatal conductance returned to baseline levels within 24 h. Our results suggest that elevated photosynthesis to herbivory might not be a general mechanism by which plants either resist or tolerate herbivory.


American Midland Naturalist, Vol. 187, No. 1 (January 2022): 14-28. DOI.