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Timothy McDougald

Posts: 1021
Joined: Dec. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: July 25 2008,23:36   

Phylogenetic escalation and decline of plant defense strategies

As the basal resource in most food webs, plants have evolved myriad strategies to battle consumption by herbivores. Over the past 50 years, plant defense theories have been formulated to explain the remarkable variation in abundance, distribution, and diversity of secondary chemistry and other defensive traits. For example, classic theories of enemy-driven evolutionary dynamics have hypothesized that defensive traits escalate through the diversification process. Despite the fact that macroevolutionary patterns are an explicit part of defense theories, phylogenetic analyses have not been previously attempted to disentangle specific predictions concerning (i) investment in resistance traits, (ii) recovery after damage, and (iii) plant growth rate. We constructed a molecular phylogeny of 38 species of milkweed and tested four major predictions of defense theory using maximum-likelihood methods. We did not find support for the growth-rate hypothesis. Our key finding was a pattern of phyletic decline in the three most potent resistance traits (cardenolides, latex, and trichomes) and an escalation of regrowth ability. Our neontological approach complements more common paleontological approaches to discover directional trends in the evolution of life and points to the importance of natural enemies in the macroevolution of species. The finding of macroevolutionary escalating regowth ability and declining resistance provides a window into the ongoing coevolutionary dynamics between plants and herbivores and suggests a revision of classic plant defense theory. Where plants are primarily consumed by specialist herbivores, regrowth (or tolerance) may be favored over resistance traits during the diversification process.

Church burning ebola boy

FTK: I Didn't answer your questions because it beats the hell out of me.

PaV: I suppose for me to be pried away from what I do to focus long and hard on that particular problem would take, quite honestly, hundreds of thousands of dollars to begin to pique my interest.

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