Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 39, Issue 11–12, pp 1373–1384 | Cite as

Patterns of Secondary Metabolite Allocation to Fruits and Seeds in Piper reticulatum

  • S. R. WhiteheadEmail author
  • C. S. Jeffrey
  • M. D. Leonard
  • C. D. Dodson
  • L. A. Dyer
  • M. D. Bowers


Little is known about the evolution, diversity, and functional significance of secondary metabolites in reproductive plant parts, particularly fruits and seeds of plants in natural ecosystems. We compared the concentration and diversity of amides among six tissue types of Piper reticulatum: leaves, roots, flowers, unripe fruit pulp, ripe fruit pulp, and seeds. This represents the first detailed description of amides in P. reticulatum, and we identified 10 major and 3 minor compounds using GC/MS and NMR analysis. We also detected 30 additional unidentified minor amide components, many of which were restricted to one or a few plant parts. Seeds had the highest concentrations and the highest diversity of amides. Fruit pulp had intermediate concentrations and diversity that decreased with ripening. Leaves and roots had intermediate concentrations, but the lowest chemical diversity. In addition, to investigate the potential importance of amide concentration and diversity in plant defense, we measured leaf herbivory and seed damage in natural populations, and examined the relationships between amide occurrence and plant damage. We found no correlations between leaf damage and amide diversity or concentration, and no correlation between seed damage and amide concentration. The only relationship we detected was a negative correlation between seed damage and amide diversity. Together, our results provide evidence that there are strong selection pressures for fruit and seed defense independent of selection in vegetative tissues, and suggest a key role for chemical diversity in fruit-frugivore interactions.


Amides Chemical diversity Fruit secondary metabolites Piperaceae Seed dispersal Toxic fruit 



This research was supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) grant DEB 1210884 to SRW and MDB, NSF grant DEB 0614883 to MDB and LAD, a National Geographic Waitt Grant to SRW, and an Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) Research Fellowship to SRW. Work related to the phytochemical characterization of compounds was supported by start-up funds from the University of Nevada to CSJ and NSF grant DEB 1145609 to CSJ and LAD. We are grateful to Hannah Burk, Heather Stone, Daniel Brunelle, and Maria Obando-Quesada for assistance with sample collection and field work, and to Jason Hong for assistance with sample preparation for amide analysis. The OTS staff and especially Bernal Matarrita and Danilo Brenes provided logistical support at La Selva Biological Station, and Javier Guevara from the Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía in Costa Rica assisted with permits. Comments from two anonymous reviewers greatly improved the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10886_2013_362_MOESM1_ESM.doc (174 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 174 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. R. Whitehead
    • 1
    Email author
  • C. S. Jeffrey
    • 2
  • M. D. Leonard
    • 2
  • C. D. Dodson
    • 3
  • L. A. Dyer
    • 4
  • M. D. Bowers
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryUniversity of Nevada at RenoRenoUSA
  3. 3.Storm Peak LaboratoryDesert Research InstituteSteamboat SpringsUSA
  4. 4.Department of BiologyUniversity of Nevada at RenoRenoUSA
  5. 5.Museum of Natural HistoryUniversity of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA

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