, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 663-672
Date: 04 Jun 2013

Geographic association and temporal variation of chemical and physical defense and leaf damage in Datura stramonium

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The evolution of plant defense traits has traditionally been explained trough the “coevolutionary arms race” between plants and herbivores. According to this, specialist herbivores have evolved to cope effectively with the defensive traits of their host plants and may even use them as a cue for host location. We analyzed the geographic association between leaf trichomes, two tropane alkaloids (putative resistance traits), and leaf damage by herbivores in 28 populations of Datura stramonium in central Mexico. Since the specialist leaf beetles Epitrix parvula and Lema trilineata are the main herbivores of D. stramonium in central Mexico, we predicted a positive association between plant defense and leaf damage across populations. Also, if physical environmental conditions (temperature or precipitation) constrain the expression of plant defense, then the geographic variation in leaf damage should be explained partially by the interaction between defensive traits and environmental factors. Furthermore, we studied the temporal and spatial variation in leaf trichome density and leaf damage in five selected populations of D. stramonium sampled in two periods (1997 vs. 2007). We found a positive association between leaf trichomes density and atropine concentration with leaf damage across populations. The interaction between defensive traits and water availability in each locality had a significant effect on the geographic variation in leaf damage. Differences among populations in leaf trichome density are maintained over time. Our results indicate that local plant–herbivore interaction plays an important role in shaping the geographic and temporal variation in plant defense in D. stramonium.