Plant-animal interactions


, Volume 144, Issue 3, pp 427-434

First online:

Within-plant variation in induced defence in developing leaves of cotton plants

  • P. AndersonAffiliated withDepartment of Crop Science, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Email author 
  • , J. AgrellAffiliated withDepartment of Animal Ecology, Lund University

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According to optimal defence theory (ODT) plants should invest in stronger defence in the most valuable parts, such as reproductive or young tissue. Cotton plants are known to express high resistance to herbivore feeding in the developing leaves at the top of the plant after herbivore-damage. Cotton plants also have developing leaves on side shoots from the nodes all along the plant. This allowed us to investigate within-plant distribution of defence between younger tissues at different locations on the plant. We found that all developing leaves showed increased resistance to feeding by larvae of the generalist moth Spodoptera littoralis after herbivore damage to leaves of the plant. An increase in the concentration of secondary compounds, terpenoid aldehydes, was found in developing leaves both at the top of the plant and on the side shoots. However, the resistance was stronger in the top leaves than in the side shoot leaves, showing that there is intra-plant variation in the induced response between different leaves of the same age. After the initial damage, larval feeding mainly occurred on the older, fully developed true leaves. Furthermore, the herbivore-induced resistance in the developing leaves reduced upward movement of feeding larvae on the plant and reduced the feeding on the upper parts of the plant over a period of at least 6 days. The plant thus benefits from defending all developing leaves by directing feeding to older, less valuable leaves and lower parts of the plant. The observed distribution of defence within cotton plants supports ODT.


Plant–insect interactions Herbivory Secondary compounds Lepidoptera Behaviour