Alpine Botany

, Volume 128, Issue 2, pp 193–206 | Cite as

Patterns of herbivore damage, developmental stability, morphological and biochemical traits in female and male Mercurialis perennis in contrasting light habitats

  • Danijela Miljković
  • Sara Selaković
  • Vukica Vujić
  • Nemanja Stanisavljević
  • Svetlana Radović
  • Dragana Cvetković
Original Article


Light environments can influence variation in plant morphology, development and susceptibility to herbivores. Our research interest was to investigate the patterns of herbivore damage and developmental stability in dioecious understory forb Mercurialis perennis in contrasting light habitats, located at 1700 m a.s.l. on Mt. Kopaonik. Male and female plants from two light habitats, open (a sun-exposed field) and shaded (a spruce forest) were examined with respect to: herbivore damage (percentage of leaf area loss), fluctuating asymetry (FA) as a measurement of developmental stability, plant morphological and, specifically, leaf size traits, as well as biochemical traits relating to nutritional quality and defence, taking into account the possible presence of intersexual differences. Our results show that herbivore damage was significantly higher in open habitat, as well as one out of four univariate FA indices and the multivariate index. Morphological and biochemical traits, apart from defensive compounds, had higher values in the shade, pointing to sun-exposed habitat being more stressful for this species. Intersexual differences were observed for foliar damage, defensive compounds (phenolics and tannins), all leaf size traits, total leaf area, and protein content. Contrasting light habitats affected most of the analysed traits. Both foliar damage and FA were higher in a more stressful habitat; within habitats, no positive correlations were found. Herbivore damage was significantly male biased in open habitat. The analysis of intersexual differences in developmental stability measured by leaf asymmetry levels provided no evidence that female plants were more sensitive to environmental stress.


Leaf asymmetry Folivory Environmental stress Plant sexual dimorphism Plant defence 



This study was supported by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia Grant No. 173025 title “Evolution in heterogeneous environments: mechanisms of adaptation, biomonitoring and conservation of biodiversity” and Grant No. 173005 title “Molecular mechanisms of plant response to abiotic stress—the role of transcription factors and small RNAs and analysis of genetic diversity of plant crops of interest for agriculture and biotechnology”.

Author contributions

DM and DC conceived the idea and designed the study. SS, VV and DC conducted fieldwork. NS, SS and SR performed biochemical analyses, VV and SS performed herbivory analyses, DM performed statistical analyses. SS, DM and DC wrote the draft, DC and DM wrote the final version of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors confirm that there is no conflict of interest in relation to this article.


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Copyright information

© Swiss Botanical Society 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Biological Research “Siniša Stanković”University of BelgradeBelgradeSerbia
  2. 2.Faculty of BiologyUniversity of BelgradeBelgradeSerbia
  3. 3.Institute of Molecular Genetics and Genetic EngineeringUniversity of BelgradeBelgradeSerbia

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