Sexual differences in response to simulated herbivory in the gynodioecious herb Geranium sylvaticum

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Several factors have been proposed to explain female maintenance in gynodioecious populations. In this study, we propose and test a novel hypothesis: greater tolerance to herbivory through more beneficial interactions with plant fungal mutualists might also help to explain female maintenance. Herbivory limits the amount of carbon and nutrients available for the plants and has been shown to affect mycorrhizal colonization. We hypothesized that simulated herbivory would decrease reproductive output, mycorrhizal colonization intensity, and the phosphorus content relatively more in hermaphrodites, so females would achieve higher advantage over hermaphrodites when under herbivory pressure. We tested it in the field using the gynodioecious plant Geranium sylvaticum. We found that simulated herbivory had a negative effect on the reproductive output in both sexes and that there was a similar reduction in fruit set, seed set, and total seed number in both sexes. Defoliation did not affect any fungal parameter measured, but decreased phosphorus content relatively more in females. The plants had a sex-specific relationship with mycorrhizae, but this was not related to herbivory. Thus, we conclude that females do not gain any specific advantage under defoliation from its symbionts at short-term even though it seems that the plants have sex-specific relationship with their mycorrhizal symbionts.

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