Ranking of individual mountain birch trees in terms of leaf chemistry: seasonal and annual variation
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- Riipi, M., Haukioja, E., Lempa, K. et al. Chemoecology (2004) 14: 31. doi:10.1007/s00049-003-0256-y
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The quality of tree leaves as food for herbivores changes rapidly especially during the spring and early summer. However, whether the quality of an individual tree in relation to other trees in the population changes during the growing season and between years is less clear. We studied the seasonal and annual stability of chemical and physical traits affecting leaf quality for herbivores. Rankings of trees in terms of the contents of two major groups of phenolics in their leaves, hydrolyzable tannins and proanthocyanidins (condensed tannins), were very stable from the early spring to the end of the growing season. There were also strong positive within-season correlations in the levels of some other groups of phenolics in the leaves (kaempferol glycosides, myricetin glycosides and p-coumaroylquinic acid derivatives). The contents of individual sugars and the sum content of protein-bound amino acids showed patterns of seasonal consistency in mature leaves, but not in young developing leaves. The seasonal correlations in leaf water content and toughness were also strongest in mature leaves. The correlations between two years at corresponding times of the growing season were strongly positive for the major groups of phenolics throughout the season, but were more variable for the contents of proteins and some sugars. Leaf toughness and water content showed strong positive correlations in mature leaves. Despite the consistency of tree ranking in terms of leaf phenolics, the relative resistance status of trees may, however, change during a growing season because there was a negative correlation between the content of hydrolyzable tannins (early-season resistance compounds) in leaves early in the season and the content of proanthocyanidins (late-season resistance compounds) late in the season, and vice versa. Thus, assuming that phenolics affect herbivore preference and performance, different plants may suffer damage at different times of the growing season, and the overall variation between trees in the fitness consequences may be low. In addition, the adaptation of herbivorous insects to mountain birch foliage in general, as well as to specific tree individuals, may be constrained by variation in the relative resistance status of the trees.