, 155:751 | Cite as

Compensation and resistance to herbivory in seagrasses: induced responses to simulated consumption by fish

  • Adriana Vergés
  • Marta Pérez
  • Teresa Alcoverro
  • Javier Romero
Plant-Animal Interactions - Original Paper


Herbivory can induce changes in plant traits that may involve both tolerance mechanisms that compensate for biomass loss and resistance traits that reduce herbivore preference. Seagrasses are marine vascular plants that possess many attributes that may favour tolerance and compensatory growth, and they are also defended with mechanisms of resistance such as toughness and secondary metabolites. We quantified phenotypic changes induced by herbivore damage on the temperate seagrass Posidonia oceanica in order to identify specific compensatory and resistance mechanisms in this plant, and to assess any potential trade-offs between these two strategies of defence. We simulated three natural levels of fish herbivory by repeatedly clipping seagrass leaves during the summer period of maximum herbivory. Compensatory responses were determined by measuring shoot-specific growth, photosynthetic rate, and the concentration of nitrogen and carbon resources in leaves and rhizomes. Induced resistance was determined by measuring the concentration of phenolic secondary metabolites and by assessing the long-term effects of continued clipping on herbivore feeding preferences using bioassays. Plants showed a significant ability to compensate for low and moderate losses of leaf biomass by increasing aboveground growth of damaged shoots, but this was not supported by an increase in photosynthetic capacity. Low levels of herbivory induced compensatory growth without any measurable effects on stored resources. In contrast, nitrogen reserves in the rhizomes played a crucial role in the plant’s ability to compensate and survive herbivore damage under moderate and high levels of herbivory, respectively. We found no evidence of inducibility of long-term resistance traits in response to herbivory. The concentration of phenolics decreased with increasing compensatory growth despite all treatments having similar carbon leaf content, suggesting reallocation of these compounds towards primary functions such as cell-wall construction.


Compensatory growth Tolerance Resistance Defence Phenolic compounds Induced responses Plant–herbivore interactions Mediterranean sea 



We are particularly grateful to Olga Invers for her hands-on assistance throughout this study. We thank Pere Renom and Santi Escartín for their help underwater, and Laura Nuñez and Tania García for assistance with laboratory work. We are indebted to the Aquarium de Barcelona and in particular to Patrici Bultó, Toni Plaça and Francesc Inglada for providing access to the aquaria facilities. CN analyses were performed at the Serveis Científico-Tècnics, Universitat de Barcelona. Two anonymous reviewers provided helpful suggestions on versions of this manuscript. This work was supported by grant REN-2002-04020-C02 from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Education. All experimental procedures comply with the current laws of Spain.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adriana Vergés
    • 1
  • Marta Pérez
    • 2
  • Teresa Alcoverro
    • 1
  • Javier Romero
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre d’Estudis Avançats de BlanesCSICBlanes, GironaSpain
  2. 2.Departament d’EcologiaUniversitat de Barcelona BarcelonaSpain

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