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Clonal Saplings of Trembling Aspen Do Not Coordinate Defense Induction


Induction of plant chemical defenses in response to insect feeding may be localized to the site of damage or expressed systemically, mediated by signal transduction throughout the plant. Such systemic induction processes have been widely investigated in plants with single stems, but rarely in clonal plants comprised of multiple ramets with vascular connections. For a clonal tree species such as trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx), integration of induced defense within clones could be adaptive, as clones are spatially extensive and susceptible to outbreak herbivores. We used pairs of aspen saplings with shared roots, replicated from three genotypes, to determine whether defense-induction signals are communicated within clones. One ramet in each pair was subjected to a damage treatment (feeding by Lymantria dispar, followed by mechanical damage), and subsequent changes in leaf defensive chemistry were measured in both ramets. Responses to damage varied by defense type: condensed tannins (CTs) increased in damaged ramets but not in connected undamaged ramets, whereas salicinoid phenolic glycosides (SPGs) were not induced in any ramets. Genotypes varied in their levels of CTs, but not in their levels of SPGs, and responded similarly to damage treatment. These results suggest that, even with both vascular and volatile information available, young aspen ramets do not induce defenses based on signals or metabolites from other ramets. Thus, unlike other clonal plant species, aspen do not appear to coordinate defense induction within clones. Lack of coordinated early induction in aspen may be related to the function of CTs in tolerance, rather than resistance.

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We thank K. Rubert-Nason, S. Jaeger, and D. Rutkowski for assistance in executing the study. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript. This research was supported by United States Department of Agriculture McIntire-Stennis project WIS01842 and National Science Foundation grant DEB-1456592. O. Cope was supported in part by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

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Correspondence to Olivia L. Cope.

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Cope, O.L., Lindroth, R.L. Clonal Saplings of Trembling Aspen Do Not Coordinate Defense Induction. J Chem Ecol 44, 1045–1050 (2018).

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