Oaks have been one of the classic model systems in elucidating the role of polyphenols in plant–herbivore interactions. This study provides a comprehensive description of seasonal variation in the phenolic content of the English oak (Quercus robur). Seven different trees were followed over the full course of the growing season, and their foliage repeatedly sampled for gallic acid, 9 individual hydrolyzable tannins, and 14 flavonoid glycosides, as well as for total phenolics, total proanthocyanidins, carbon, and nitrogen. A rare dimeric ellagitannin, cocciferin D2, was detected for the first time in leaves of Q. robur, and relationships between the chemical structures of individual tannins were used to propose a biosynthetic pathway for its formation. Overall, hydrolyzable tannins were the dominant phenolic group in leaves of all ages. Nevertheless, young oak leaves were much richer in hydrolyzable tannins and flavonoid glycosides than old leaves, whereas the opposite pattern was observed for proanthocyanidins. However, when quantified as individual compounds, hydrolyzable tannins and flavonoid glycosides showed highly variable seasonal patterns. This large variation in temporal trends among compounds, and a generally weak correlation between the concentration of any individual compound and the total concentration of phenolics, as quantified by the Folin–Ciocalteau method, leads us to caution against the uncritical use of summary quantifications of composite phenolic fractions in ecological studies.
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Salminen, JP., Roslin, T., Karonen, M. et al. Seasonal Variation in the Content of Hydrolyzable Tannins, Flavonoid Glycosides, and Proanthocyanidins in Oak Leaves. J Chem Ecol 30, 1693–1711 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:JOEC.0000042396.40756.b7
- Quercus robur
- hydrolyzable tannins
- flavonoid glycosides
- quantification of phenolics
- biosynthetic pathways
- compound-specific patterns