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Impact of herbivory on flowering behaviour and life history trade-offs in a polycarpic herb: a 10-year experiment

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Abstract

Herbivores can have strong deleterious effects on plant growth, reproduction, and even survival. Because these effects might be strongly interrelated, the direct consumptive effects of herbivores and a variety of indirect effects are difficult to untangle. Reductions in growth, for example, may strongly impact the flowering behaviour of plant species in the current season, but at the same time incur costs to survival, growth and reproduction in the next growing season(s). To get better insights in the effects of herbivory on the flowering behaviour of the long-lived polycarpic grassland herb Primula veris L., flowering patterns were monitored over ten consecutive years under two treatments (grazing and control mowing regimes). We tested the hypothesis that the size at flowering was affected by the presence of herbivores, and whether this translated into costs to future reproduction and survival. Overall, grazed plants were significantly smaller than control plants, and the size at which plants flowered was also significantly smaller when herbivores were present. The transition probability of flowering and of surviving into the next year was significantly smaller for all plants in the current year if they had been grazed than if they had been mown, indicating that herbivory incurred costs to both flowering and survival. Grazed plants also needed longer to start flowering, had fewer flowers and flowered less frequently, causing a significantly lower proportion of flowering adults in the population. These results suggest that the observed regression in plant size due to herbivory does not allow plants to capture enough resources to guarantee regular flowering in the longer run.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the late A. Zeevaert for giving us the permission to perform this long-term research at both study sites. We thank Ivo Brys for assistance during field work. Two anonymous referees provided useful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. We are grateful to Ivy Jansen for her assistance with some of the statistical analyses. This research was supported by the Flemish Fund for Scientific Research (FWO) to R.B. and H.J.

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Correspondence to Rein Brys.

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Communicated by Julia Koricheva.

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Brys, R., Shefferson, R.P. & Jacquemyn, H. Impact of herbivory on flowering behaviour and life history trade-offs in a polycarpic herb: a 10-year experiment. Oecologia 166, 293–303 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-010-1842-7

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