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Tolerance of a perennial herb, Pimpinella saxifraga, to simulated flower herbivory and grazing: immediate repair of injury or postponed reproduction?

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Perennial, polycarpic herbs can respond to herbivory either by (1) regrowth in the same season in order to compensate for lost reproductive structures or by (2) postponing reproduction until the following growing season. We tested these response patterns with the perennial umbellifer Pimpinella saxifraga by simulating flower herbivory and shoot grazing both in the field and in a common garden experiment. In the field, both simulated flower herbivory and grazing effectively suppressed current reproduction, whereas no statistically significant effects of previous-year treatments on growth or reproduction were found in the following year. In the common garden, in the first year the species fully compensated for simulated flower herbivory in vegetative parameters but seed set was reduced by 26%. After 2 years of flower removal, the plants overcompensated in shoot and root biomass by 47 and 46%, respectively, and compensated fully in reproductive performance. Simulated grazing resulted in 21% lower shoot biomass in the first season, but the root biomass was not affected. In the second season the root biomass increased by 43% as compared to the control plants. However, regrowth following simulated grazing resulted in a significant delay in flowering with the consequence that the seed yield of fertile plants was reduced by 55% as compared to the control plants. These results suggest that in resource-rich garden conditions P. saxifraga may immediately repair injuries caused by flower herbivory, but repairs more extensive shoot injury less successfully. Delayed phenology decreases the benefits of immediate repair. In resource-poor conditions, the benefits of regrowth can be negligible. Accordingly, in our field population, the plants postponed their reproduction until the following year in response to simulated grazing and frequently in response to flower removal. When the plants gain very little from regrowth, the costs of reproduction would select for postponed reproduction in response to injury.

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The work was financially supported by the Academy of Finland (projects #40951 and #80486), the Emil Aaltonen Foundation and Kone Foundation. We thank the technical staff of Oulanka Research Station and Department of Biology at the University of Oulu for their valuable help in the field and laboratory. Aaron Bergdahl kindly checked the language. Finally, sincerest thanks to S.-M. Horttanainen for her field assistance.

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Correspondence to A-P. Huhta.

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Huhta, A., Rautio, P., Hellström, K. et al. Tolerance of a perennial herb, Pimpinella saxifraga, to simulated flower herbivory and grazing: immediate repair of injury or postponed reproduction?. Plant Ecol 201, 599–609 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-008-9535-6

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  • Cost of herbivory
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