Aphids are unaffected by the elemental defence of the nickel hyperaccumulator Streptanthus polygaloides (Brassicaceae)
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Nickel hyperaccumulation, resulting in plant Ni contents of >1000 mg kg−1 dry mass, has been shown to defend plants against folivorous herbivores. We determined whether this elemental defence tactic protected hyperaccumulating plants from attack by a phloem-feeding herbivore. We used the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum, and the Ni-hyperaccumulating plant Streptanthus polygaloides. Aphids were allowed to colonize mixed arrays of S. polygaloides in which plants either were hyperaccumulating Ni, not hyperaccumulating Ni and treated with a systemic insecticide, or not hyperaccumulating Ni. Aphid numbers g−1 dry mass of plant biomass were lowest for the insecticide treatment, intermediate for low-Ni plants, and highest for plants hyperaccumulating Ni. Artificial liquid aphid diet, amended with varying levels of Ni, resulted in decreased aphid survival at 2500 mg kg−1 Ni dry mass (or 5.03 mM Ni). We concluded that Ni levels in the phloem of hyperaccumulating plants of S. polygaloides were < 5.03 mM and, as a result, were not effective in defending plants against aphid attack.
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