, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 93-99
Date: 28 Mar 2008

Plant organ abscission and the green island effect caused by gallmidges (Cecidomyiidae) on tropical trees

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Plants exhibit a wide array of inert and induced responses in defense against herbivore attack. Among these the abscission of organs has been argued to be a highly effective mechanism, depending, however, on the herbivore’s feeding mode. While consisting of plant tissues, insect induced galls are seen as the extended phenotype of the gall inducer which might circumvent many or most of the plant defenses. There is very little information whether and how far beyond the gall tissue gall inducers might affect plant tissues. A localized impact is likely to leave the abscission of galled organs as a viable defense although at a cost. Here, we report on an instance where the host plant, Neea madeirana (Nyctaginaceae) abscises leaves galled by two species of Bruggmannia (Diptera: Cecidomyiidae), more frequently than ungalled leaves in a rain forest in Amazonia, Brazil. Once on the forest floor the leaves decay quickly, while both gall types show signs of localized maintenance of healthy tissues for a while (the green island effect). However, on the forest floor galls are exposed to a new set of potential natural enemies. Both gall types show a minimum of a five-fold increase in mortality due to pathogens (fungi and bacteria) compared to galls that were retained on the host tree. We discuss the adaptive nature of plant organ abscission as a plant defense against gallers and as a gall inducer adaptive trait.

Handling editor: Graham Stone.