, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 697-704
Date: 11 Sep 2008

A test of the latitudinal defense hypothesis: herbivory, tannins and total phenolics in four North American tree species

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It is widely believed that insect herbivory is less intense at higher latitudes, due to winter mortality which would tend to keep insect herbivores from reaching density-limitation of their populations. One prediction of this theory is that plants should tend to be better defended at lower latitudes. Here we investigated latitudinal trends in herbivory and tannins, in four species of common North American trees. Our comparisons spanned 15° of latitude in Acer rubrum, Fagus grandifolia, and Quercus alba, and 10° latitude in Liquidambar styraciflua. Sun leaves on forest edges were sampled, at phenologically equivalent times of year. Analysis revealed significant differences between populations, including those at similar latitudes, but no significant latitudinal trend in herbivory, condensed and hydrolyzable tannins, or total phenolics measured as Folin–Denis reactives in any of the four species. Our findings contradict the theory that low latitude plants are better defended, in that lower latitude populations of the four tree species showed no greater amounts of phenolics. The possible implications for community ecology are discussed.

Jonathan M. Adams, Brian Rehill, and Yangjian Zhang are equal joint lead authorship on this paper.