Home » Toleration games: Compensatory growth by plants in response to enemy attack is an evolutionarily stable strategy

Toleration games: Compensatory growth by plants in response to enemy attack is an evolutionarily stable strategy

Plants are regularly attacked by enemies such as herbivores and pathogens. Not surprisingly, plants have evolved ways of coping with these attacks. One way is to tolerate attack and compensate for lost or damaged tissue with regrowth of additional tissue. While ecological models of plant defence are common, there has been less effort to make predictions about the evolutionary stability of tolerance.

Germinating plants from the experiment described in this manuscript. Image credit: McNickle & Evans.

In a study recently published in AoBP, McNickle & Evans developed an evolutionary game theoretic model of tolerance to herbivory. Plants in the model have a vector strategy which includes both root and shoot production, and herbivores in the model have a scalar strategy which is time spent foraging. The evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) is the set of root growth, shoot growth and herbivore foraging which simultaneously maximizes all player’s fitness. The model was validated experimentally using wheat, with herbivory simulated by clipping shoots during production. The model predicted that compensatory growth was often an evolutionary stable strategy whether herbivores were above- or below-ground. Plants in the experiment followed model predictions, producing more tissue than expected based on damage. When less than 15 % of new shoots were clipped the plants were able to maintain equal fitness compared to undamaged plants. These confirmative results mean that the model can be used as a new tool to predict compensatory growth as a mechanism to tolerate herbivory.

William Salter

William (Tam) Salter is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Sydney Institute of Agriculture at the University of Sydney. He has a bachelor degree in Ecological Science (Hons) from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in plant ecophysiology from the University of Sydney. Tam is interested in the identification and elucidation of plant traits that could be useful for ecosystem resilience and future food security under global environmental change. He is also very interested in effective scientific communication.

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