Ecological Effects of Salicin at Three Trophic Levels: New Problems from Old Adaptations

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Science  16 Aug 1985:
Vol. 229, Issue 4714, pp. 649-651
DOI: 10.1126/science.229.4714.649


Salicin, a toxic phenol glycoside, is used by larvae of the beetle Chrysomela aenicollis as a substrate for producing defensive secretions. In the east-central Sierra Nevada mountains of California, salicin concentrations ranged from 0.05 percent to over 5 percent of dry weight in leaves of different plants of Salix orestera, the Sierra willow. Beetles produced more secretion and suffered less predation on willows containing more salicin. In addition, leaf damage due to herbivory among 16 willow clones ranged from 0 to 20 percent of leaf area and was linearly related to salicin content. These results illustrate how a plant secondary chemical can become a problem for the plant when herbivores are adapted to use the chemical for their own benefit. The results also show the effect of a plant chemical on three trophic levels—the producer, a herbivore, and the predators of the herbivore.