Selective herbivory on low-zinc phenotypes of the hyperaccumulator Thlaspi caerulescens (Brassicaceae)
The European plant Thlaspi caerulescens hyperaccumulates zinc in its leaves to concentrations exceeding 2 %. This may represent a defense against herbivory, as shown by reduced feeding on plants grown in high-zinc versus low-zinc substrates. However, the more evolutionarily relevant comparison involves plants whose metal content differs due to genetic rather than environmental causes. In our study, plants were grown in a uniform hydroponic solution containing 10 mg/l Zn. Foliar Zn concentrations were measured, and plants of contrasting Zn concentration were chosen for feeding trials using Pieris napi oleracea larvae. Comparisons revealed no statistically significant preferences when young larvae were used, but highly significant avoidance of high-Zn leaves by later-instar caterpillars, suggesting that hyperaccumulation could evolve in response to the selective pressures of herbivory.
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