Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 1469–1480 | Cite as

Direct and indirect transgenerational effects alter plant-herbivore interactions

  • Casey P. terHorst
  • Jennifer A. Lau
Original Paper


Theory suggests that environmental effects with transgenerational consequences, including rapid evolution and maternal effects, may affect the outcome of ecological interactions. However, indirect effects occur when interactions between two species are altered by the presence of a third species, and can make the consequences of transgenerational effects difficult to predict. We manipulated the presence of insect herbivores and the competitor Medicago polymorpha in replicated Lotus wrangelianus populations. After one generation, we used seeds from the surviving Lotus to initiate a reciprocal transplant experiment to measure how transgenerational effects altered ecological interactions between Lotus, Medicago, and insect herbivores. Herbivore leaf damage and Lotus fecundity were dependent on both parental and offspring environmental conditions. The presence of insect herbivores and Medicago in the parental environment resulted in transgenerational changes in herbivore resistance, but these effects were non-additive, likely as a result of indirect effects in the parental environment. Indirect transgenerational effects interacted with more immediate ecological indirect effects to affect Lotus fecundity. These results suggest that explanations of ecological patterns require an understanding of transgenerational effects and that these effects may be difficult to predict in species-rich, natural communities where indirect effects are prevalent.


Diffuse evolution Invasive species Maternal effects Non-additive interactions Rapid evolution Resistance 



We thank A. McCall, J. Wright, L. Yang, and T. Yang for field assistance. T. Bassett, K. Keller, R. Prunier, E. Schultheis, T. Suwa, D. Weese, and two anonymous reviewers provided valuable input on a previous version of the manuscript. This manuscript is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant # IBN-0206601 awarded to S.Y. Strauss and J.A.L. and DEB-0918963 awarded to J.A.L. This work was performed at the University of California Natural Reserve System’s Donald and Sylvia McLaughlin Reserve. Data and the SAS code for the analyses presented in this manuscript can be found on Dryad (doi: 10.5061/dryad.22672702). This is contribution #1588 from the Kellogg Biological Station.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.W. K. Kellogg Biological StationMichigan State UniversityHickory CornersUSA
  2. 2.Department of Plant BiologyMichigan State UniversityHickory CornersUSA

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