Plant Defense Guilds

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Science  02 Jul 1976:
Vol. 193, Issue 4247, pp. 24-29
DOI: 10.1126/science.193.4247.24


Optimal plant defense should incorporate any mechanisms that influence the feeding behavior of potential pests. From a diverse collection of examples suggesting that the defense of a plant may be improved in the company of specific neighbors, we discuss a framework of operational mechanisms that begin to clarify some aspects of the recognized influence of species diversity on herbivory. Neighbors serve as insectary plants for herbivore predators and parasites, and influence herbivore feeding behavior by repelling, masking, attracting, and decoying. Insectary plants lower the numerical response of herbivores by increasing the efficiency of their predators and parasites. Repellent plants primarily lower functional response by causing the predator to fail to locate or reject its normal prey. Attractant-decoy plants dilute herbivore impact by drawing off herbivores, either increasing or decreasing their numerical and functional response (or either).

The concept of gene conservation guilds adds diversionary and delaying tactics to the adaptation-counteradaptation view of plant-herbivore coevolution. The useful life of a given gene for resistance may best be extended by mechanisms that disrupt genetic tracking (specialization) by herbivores. Some plants may remain inedible not because their chemistry or morphology represents an evolutionary impasse, but because they live in an environment that provides acceptable options of variable quality. Feeding environments that provide little or no choice promote specialization by forcing physiological adaptation. Conversely, the evolutionary momentum of specializing herbivores may be lowered by enhancing their susceptibility, either by selection against virulent individuals, or by decreasing the exposure frequency of susceptible genotypes. The latter mechanism of conserving susceptible individuals takes advantage of herbivore behavioral sensitivity to variable plant quality. Direct selection against virulent genotypes requires temporal cycling of the herbivore population between resistant and nonresistant hosts. Both events may occur within defense guilds that provide acceptable feeding options of similar but distinctive quality.