Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 21–30 | Cite as

Reserves Accumulated in Non-Photosynthetic Organs during the Previous Growing Season Drive Plant Defenses and Growth in Aspen in the Subsequent Growing Season

  • Ahmed Najar
  • Simon M. Landhäusser
  • Justin G. A. Whitehill
  • Pierluigi Bonello
  • Nadir ErbilginEmail author


Plants store non-structural carbohydrates (NSC), nitrogen (N), as well as other macro and micronutrients, in their stems and roots; the role of these stored reserves in plant growth and defense under herbivory pressure is poorly understood, particularly in trees. Trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) seedlings with different NSC and N reserves accumulated during the previous growing season were generated in the greenhouse. Based on NSC and N contents, seedlings were assigned to one of three reserve statuses: Low N–Low NSC, High N–Medium NSC, or High N–High NSC. In the subsequent growing season, half of the seedlings in each reserve status was subjected to defoliation by forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria) while the other half was left untreated. Following defoliation, the effect of reserves was measured on foliar chemistry (N, NSC) and caterpillar performance (larval development). Due to their importance in herbivore feeding, we also quantified concentrations of phenolic glycoside compounds in foliage. Seedlings in Low N-Low NSC reserve status contained higher amounts of induced phenolic glycosides, grew little, and supported fewer caterpillars. In contrast, aspen seedlings in High N-Medium or High NSC reserve statuses contained lower amounts of induced phenolic glycosides, grew faster, and some of the caterpillars which fed on these seedlings developed up to their fourth instar. Furthermore, multiple regression analysis indicated that foliar phenolic glycoside concentration was related to reserve chemistry (NSC, N). Overall, these results demonstrate that reserves accumulated during the previous growing season can influence tree defense and growth in the subsequent growing season. Additionally, our study concluded that the NSC/N ratio of reserves in the previous growing season represents a better measure of resources available for use in defense and growth than the foliar NSC/N ratios.


Aspen Constitutive and induced defenses Non-structural carbohydrates Nitrogen Phenolic glycosides 



We acknowledge the contribution of Dr. Staffan Lindgren (University of Northern British Columbia) and Amy Nixon (University of Alberta) in providing egg masses of forest tent caterpillar for the herbivory experiment. We also thank Dr. Richard Lindroth (University of Wisconsin, Madison) for supplying tremuloidin for phenolic glycoside analysis in HPLC. Dr. J Karst (University of Alberta) provided comments on the earlier version of this paper. This study was funded by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada – Discovery to SML and NE. Dr. Guillaume Blanchet helped with the statistical analysis and Pak Chow conducted the carbohydrate analysis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ahmed Najar
    • 1
  • Simon M. Landhäusser
    • 1
  • Justin G. A. Whitehill
    • 2
    • 3
  • Pierluigi Bonello
    • 2
  • Nadir Erbilgin
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Renewable ResourcesUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Plant PathologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  3. 3.Michael Smith LaboratoriesUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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