, Volume 189, Issue 3, pp 719–732 | Cite as

Herbivory and resource availability shift plant defense and herbivore feeding choice in a seagrass system

  • Gema HernánEmail author
  • Inés Castejón
  • Jorge Terrados
  • Fiona Tomas
Plant-microbe-animal interactions – original research


Numerous hypotheses have been posited to explain the observed variation in plant defense strategies against herbivory. Under resource-rich environments, plants are predicted to increase their tolerance (limiting resource model; LRM) and, while the resource availability hypothesis (RAH) predicts a decrease in constitutive resistance in plant species growing in resource-rich environments, at the intraspecific level, plants are predicted to follow an opposite pattern (intraspecific RAH). Furthermore, the effect of multiple factors in modulating plant defense strategies has been scarcely explored and is more difficult to predict. Our aim was to understand how plant defense traits respond to herbivory, resource availability and their interactions, and to assess the effects on plant palatability. To this end, we performed an in situ factorial experiment at two sites simulating three herbivory levels and two nutrient availability conditions with the seagrass Posidonia oceanica. Additionally, we performed a series of feeding experiments with its two main herbivores. While plants decreased their constitutive resistance under nutrient fertilization (contrary to intraspecific RAH but in accordance to the RAH), and did not increase allocation to tolerance (likely due to resource limitation, LRM), simulated herbivory induced resistance traits. However, we found no interactive effects of nutrient fertilization and herbivory simulation on plant defense. Both herbivores responded similarly to changes in plant palatability, strongly preferring nutrient-enriched plants and non-clipped plants. This work highlights the need to better understand the drivers of plant defense intraspecific variability in response to resources, particularly in habitat-forming species where changes in plant traits and abundance will cascade onto associated species.


Plant–herbivore interactions Limited resource model Resource availability hypothesis Nutrients Posidonia oceanica 



E. Oliver, D. Rita, C. Sangil, J. Grimalt and C. Casas helped with fieldwork experiments.

Author contribution statement

GH, FT and JT conceived the experiment. GH, JT and IC performed the field experiment. IC performed the phosphorus analysis. GH performed plant size, plant chemical traits and statistical analysis. FT and JT funded field and laboratory material and analyses. GH and FT prepared the manuscript. All authors discussed and reviewed the manuscript.


GH was supported by the research personnel program co-funded by the European Social Fund and the Government of the Balearic Islands (Conselleria d´Educació, Cultura i Universitats). This study was supported by POSIPLANT (CTM2011-27377), RESIGRASS (CGL2014-58829-C2-2-R) to FT and JT, and the Ramón y Cajal Program to FT.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

442_2019_4364_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (850 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 850 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Marine Ecology, IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB)Mediterranean Institute for Advanced StudiesBalearic IslandsSpain
  2. 2.Department of Biological ScienceFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Fisheries and WildlifeOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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