Plant Ecology

, Volume 196, Issue 1, pp 1–13 | Cite as

Effects of nutrient and CO2 availability on tolerance to herbivory in Brassica rapa

  • Carolyn B. Marshall
  • Germán Avila-Sakar
  • Edward G. Reekie


The ability of plants to recover from herbivore damage and maintain their fitness depends on physiological mechanisms that are affected by the availability of resources such as carbon and soil nutrients. In this study, we explored the effects of increased carbon and nutrient availability on the response of rapid cycling Brassica rapa to damage by the generalist herbivore, Trichoplusia ni (Noctuidae), in a greenhouse experiment. Using fruit mass as an estimate of plant fitness, we tested three physiological models, which predict either an increase or a decrease of tolerance to herbivory with increasing resource availability. We used leaf demography to examine some plausible mechanisms through which resource availability may affect tolerance. Our results contradict all models, and, rather, they support a more complicated view of the plasticity of resource uptake and allocation than the ones considered by the models tested. Fruit mass was negatively affected by herbivore damage only under elevated CO2, and only for certain harvest dates. Increased CO2 had no effect on the number of leaf births, but it decreased leaf longevity and the total number of leaves on a plant. Nutrient addition increased the number of leaf births, leaf longevity and the total number of leaves on a plant. We conclude that a shortening of the life span of the plants, brought about by elevated CO2, was responsible for a higher susceptibility of plants to herbivore damage under high CO2 concentration.


Compensation Elevated CO2 Insect damage Leaf demography Growth rate model Continuum of responses model Resource limitation model 



We thank M. Quesada and two anonymous reviewers for comments to earlier versions of this manuscript. Thanks to J.W. Whistlecraft at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada—Southern Crop Protection and Food Research Centre, London, Ontario for providing us with Trichoplusia ni eggs and advise on how to rear them. S. Javorcek provided us with guidance in terms of bee keeping in the greenhouse. J. Cowan and C. MacLeod helped with fruit harvesting, counting and weighing. We are grateful to P. Romkey and the staff at the Irving Centre for their help with the use of the phytotron chambers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolyn B. Marshall
    • 1
  • Germán Avila-Sakar
    • 2
  • Edward G. Reekie
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyAcadia UniversityWolfvilleCanada
  2. 2.Biology DepartmentMount Saint Vincent UniversityHalifaxCanada

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