Root condensed tannins vary over time, but are unrelated to leaf tannins

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  • Although the negative effects of root herbivores on plant fitness are expected to be similar to those of above-ground herbivores, the study of below-ground plant defences is limited compared to the rich literature on above-ground defences. Current theory predicts that concentrations of defensive chemicals above- and belowground should be correlated, as the evolutionary drivers that shape plant defence are similar across the whole plant. We conducted a field study to measure root condensed tannin concentrations in Populus tremuloides, and determine how they related to leaf condensed tannin concentrations, tree position within the stand (edge vs. interior), tree size, and time of year. Overall, root tannin concentrations were substantially lower than leaf tannin concentrations. At individual sampling periods, root and leaf tannin concentrations were uncorrelated with each other, and did not vary with stand position or size. Across the growing season both root and leaf tannin concentrations did show similar trends, with both highest in the early summer, and declining through mid-summer and fall. These results suggest that the mechanisms that influence leaf and root tannin levels in aspen are independent within individual stems, possibly due to different evolutionary pressures experienced by the different tissue types or in response to localized (roots vs. foliage) stressors. However, across individual stems, the similar patterns in chemical defence over time, independent of plant size or stand position indicate that larger scale processes can have consistent effects across individuals within a population, such as the relative investment in defence of tissues in the spring versus the fall. Overall, we conclude that using theories based on above-ground defence to predict below-ground defences may not be possible without further studies examining below-ground defence.

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    Article (Published)
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    Attribution 4.0 International
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    • Dettlaff, M. A., Marshall, V., Erbilgin, N., & Cahill, J. F. (2018). Root condensed tannins vary over time, but are unrelated to leaf tannins. AoB Plants, 10 (4), ply044.
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