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Does plant apparency matter? Thirty years of data provide limited support but reveal clear patterns of the effects of plant chemistry on herbivores

Smilanich, Angela M., Fincher, R. Malia, Dyer, Lee A.
The new phytologist 2016 v.210 no.3 pp. 1044-1057
chemical defenses, evolution, herbaceous plants, herbivores, meta-analysis, models, plant biochemistry, prediction, secondary metabolites, woody plants
According to the plant‐apparency hypothesis, apparent plants allocate resources to quantitative defenses that negatively affect generalist and specialist herbivores, while unapparent plants invest more in qualitative defenses that negatively affect nonadapted generalists. Although this hypothesis has provided a useful framework for understanding the evolution of plant chemical defense, there are many inconsistencies surrounding associated predictions, and it has been heavily criticized and deemed obsolete. We used a hierarchical Bayesian meta‐analysis model to test whether defenses from apparent and unapparent plants differ in their effects on herbivores. We collected a total of 225 effect sizes from 158 published papers in which the effects of plant chemistry on herbivore performance were reported. As predicted by the plant‐apparency hypothesis, we found a prevalence of quantitative defenses in woody plants and qualitative defenses in herbaceous plants. However, the detrimental impacts of qualitative defenses were more effective against specialists than generalists, and the effects of chemical defenses did not significantly differ between specialists and generalists for woody or herbaceous plants. A striking pattern that emerged from our data was a pervasiveness of beneficial effects of secondary metabolites on herbivore performance, especially generalists. This pattern provides evidence that herbivores are evolving effective counteradaptations to putative plant defenses.