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Parasitic plants: parallels and contrasts with herbivores


Parasitic plants are common in natural communities, but are largely ignored in plant community theory. Interactions between parasitic plants and hosts often parallel those between herbivores and plants: both types of consumers display host preferences, reduce host biomass and alter host allocation patterns, modify plant community structure and dynamics, and mediate interactions between host plants and other organisms. In other cases, basic differences in mobility, hormonal and elemental composition and resource capture between plants and animals lead to different effects: parasitic plants have broad host ranges, affect and are affected by host plant physiology because of similar hormonal pathways between parasite and host, do not alter nutrient cycling as extensively as do herbivores, and may simultaneously parasitize and compete with hosts. Many fundamental aspects of the ecology of parasitic plants remain poorly studied, and research to date has been dominated by laboratory studies and studies of crop pests, rather than by studies of natural communities.

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Correspondence to Steven C. Pennings.

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Pennings, S.C., Callaway, R.M. Parasitic plants: parallels and contrasts with herbivores. Oecologia 131, 479–489 (2002).

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  • Parasite
  • Parasite-host interactions
  • Parasitic plant
  • Plant community
  • Plant-herbivore interactions