Compensatory growth responses to defoliation and light availability in two native Mexican woody plant species

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Journal of Tropical Ecology


Defoliation, often caused by herbivory, is a common cause of biomass loss for plants that can affect current and future growth and reproduction. There are three models that predict contrasting compensatory growth responses of plants to herbivory and resource availability: (1) Growth rate model, (2) Compensatory continuum hypothesis and (3) Limiting resource model. The predictions of these three models were tested on the tree Brosimum alicastrum and the liana Vitis tiliifolia. Seedlings were subjected to three levels of experimental defoliation (0%, 50% and 90% leaf removal) along a light resource gradient (1%, 9% and 65% of full sun). In both species, defoliation significantly increased leaf production rate and relative growth rate of leaf area, but not of biomass. Net assimilation rate was the strongest driver of biomass growth in both species, but leaf area ratio and specific leaf area were also important in B. alicastrum. Compensatory responses of leaf area growth in B. alicastrum were significantly greater in higher than lower light availability, consistent with the compensatory continuum hypothesis predictions, but in contrast to the growth rate model predictions. The limiting resource model offered an explanation for all possible experimental outcomes by directly considering the effects of environmental differences in resource availability

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