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Contrasting mechanisms of secondary metabolite accumulation during leaf development in two tropical tree species with different leaf expansion strategies

Brenes-Arguedas, Tania, Horton, Matthew W., Coley, Phyllis D., Lokvam, John, Waddell, Rachel A., Meizoso-O'Meara, Beatrice E., Kursar, Thomas A.
Oecologia 2006 v.149 no.1 pp. 91-100
Inga goldmanii, Inga umbellifera, chemistry, evolution, flavanoids, herbivores, high performance liquid chromatography, leaf development, leaves, secondary metabolites, tannins, toxicity, trees
Young leaves of most species experience remarkably higher herbivore attack rates than mature leaves. Considerable theoretical effort has focused on predicting optimal defense and tradeoffs in defense allocation during leaf expansion. Among others, allocation to secondary chemistry may be dependent on growth constraints. We studied flavanoid production during leaf development in two species of Inga (Fabaceae: Mimosoideae) with different expansion strategies: Inga goldmanii, a species with slowly expanding young leaves, and Inga umbellifera, a species with fast-expanding young leaves. In these two species, the most abundant and toxic class of defensive compounds is flavanoids (which include tannins). We measured their concentration by leaf dry weight, their total content per leaf, their HPLC chemical profile and their toxicity to a generalist herbivore at different expansion levels. Although in both species the flavanoid concentration decreased with increasing leaf expansion, that decrease was twice as pronounced for I. umbellifera as it was for I. goldmanii. I. umbellifera leaves produced flavanoids only during the first half of their development while I. goldmanii leaves continued production throughout. The changes in flavanoid HPLC profiles and toxicity were also more dramatic for I. umbellifera, which had different flavanoids in young than in mature leaves. Relative to I. umbellifera, I. goldmanii showed smaller changes in both flavanoid composition and toxicity in the transition from young to mature leaves. These results indicate that, even though young leaves suffer higher rates of attack and are predicted to have better chemical defenses than mature leaves, growth constraints may modulate defense allocation and thus, evolution of defense strategies.