Plant Ecology

, Volume 191, Issue 2, pp 295–303 | Cite as

Associational resistance for mule’s ears with sagebrush neighbors

Original Paper


Many examples of associational resistance have been reported, in which a plant’s neighbors reduce the rate of damage by herbivores that it experiences. Despite 30 years of interest and hundreds of examples of associational resistance, we still know very little about how plants avoid their herbivores. This lack of mechanistic understanding prevents us from predicting when or where associational resistance will be important or might affect species’ distributions. I demonstrate here that the plant neighborhoods that surrounded focal mule’s ears (Wyethia mollis) individuals affected the damage they received. In particular, distance between a focal mule’s ears individual and its nearest sagebrush neighbor (Artemisia tridentata) was a good predictor of how much leaf area the mule’s ears would lose to herbivores over 2 years. Mule’s ears close to sagebrush suffered less loss than those with more distant nearest sagebrush neighbors. Mule’s ears with near sagebrush neighbors suffered half the leaf loss as mule’s ears with sagebrush experimentally removed. This associational resistance was probably not caused by sagebrush attracting or increasing populations of predators of generalist herbivores. Sagebrush is known to emit chemicals that are feeding deterrents to generalist grasshoppers and these deterrents were probably involved here. Volatile chemicals emitted by damaged sagebrush have been found to induce resistance in neighboring plants of several species. However, I found no evidence for such eavesdropping here as mule’s ears gained associational resistance from sagebrush neighbors whether or not those sagebrush neighbors had been experimentally damaged. Understanding the mechanisms responsible for associational resistance is critical to predicting where and when it will be important.


Associational resistance Eavesdropping Herbivory Plant neighborhood Volatile cue 



I thank Mikaela Huntzinger and Claire Karban for help in the field, and Claire Karban, Jesse Karban, Aaron Combs, and Louie Yang for helping measuring leaf damage. Andy McCall, Louie Yang, and Truman Young improved the manuscript. I benefitted from facilities at the UC Sagehen Creek field station and Jeff Brown facilitated this research in numerous ways. This work was conducted in the Tahoe National Forest adjacent to the field station.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EntomologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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