Phytochemicals Involved in Plant Resistance to Leporids and Cervids: a Systematic Review


Non-nutritive phytochemicals (secondary metabolites and fibre) can influence plant resistance to herbivores and have ecological impacts on animal and plant population dynamics. A major hindrance to the ecological study of these phytochemicals is the uncertainty in the compounds one should measure, especially when limited by cost and expertise. With the underlying goal of identifying proxies of plant resistance to herbivores, we performed a systematic review of the effects of non-nutritive phytochemicals on consumption by leporids (rabbits and hares) and cervids (deer family). We identified 133 out of 1790 articles that fit our selection criteria (leporids = 33, cervids = 97, both herbivore types = 3). These articles cover 18 species of herbivores, on four continents. The most prevalent group of phytochemicals in the selected articles was phenolics, followed by terpenes for leporids and by fibre for cervids. In general, the results were variable but phenolic concentration seems linked with high resistance to both types of herbivores. Terpene concentration is also linked to high plant resistance; this relationship seems driven by total terpene content for cervids and specific terpenes for leporids. Tannins and fibre did not have a consistent positive effect on plant resistance. Because of the high variability in results reported and the synergistic effects of phytochemicals, we propose that the choice of chemical analyses must be tightly tailored to research objectives. While researchers pursuing ecological or evolutionary objectives should consider multiple specific analyses, researchers in applied studies could focus on a fewer number of specific analyses. An improved consideration of plant defence, based on meaningful chemical analyses, could improve studies of plant resistance and allow us to predict novel or changing plant-herbivore interactions.

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EC was supported by a Mitacs Accelerate Fellowship, resulting from a partnership among Ouranos, Université Laval and Direction de la recherche forestière (Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs). We thank B. Carrier, P. Edwards, J. Wiedenbeck, A. Sledgers and two anonymous reviewers for revising previous versions of this article, S. Béland for the silhouettes of Fig. 2, and D. Houle and A. D. Munson for their advices.

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Correspondence to Emilie Champagne.

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Champagne, E., Royo, A.A., Tremblay, J. et al. Phytochemicals Involved in Plant Resistance to Leporids and Cervids: a Systematic Review. J Chem Ecol 46, 84–98 (2020) doi:10.1007/s10886-019-01130-z

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  • Secondary metabolites
  • Deer
  • Hare
  • Diet selection
  • Defense metabolite
  • Secondary compound