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Herbivores and plant defences affect selection on plant reproductive traits more strongly than pollinators

Santangelo, James S., Thompson, Ken A., Johnson, Marc T. J.
Journal of evolutionary biology 2019 v.32 no.1 pp. 4-18
Trifolium repens, chemical defenses, field experimentation, flowering, genotype, herbivores, hydrogen cyanide, pollination, pollinators, reproductive traits
Pollinators and herbivores can both affect the evolutionary diversification of plant reproductive traits. However, plant defences frequently alter antagonistic and mutualistic interactions, and therefore, variation in plant defences may alter patterns of herbivore‐ and pollinator‐mediated selection on plant traits. We tested this hypothesis by conducting a common garden field experiment using 50 clonal genotypes of white clover (Trifolium repens) that varied in a Mendelian‐inherited chemical antiherbivore defence—the production of hydrogen cyanide (HCN). To evaluate whether plant defences alter herbivore‐ and/or pollinator‐mediated selection, we factorially crossed chemical defence (25 cyanogenic and 25 acyanogenic genotypes), herbivore damage (herbivore suppression) and pollination (hand pollination). We found that herbivores weakened selection for increased inflorescence production, suggesting that large displays are costly in the presence of herbivores. In addition, herbivores weakened selection on flower size but only among acyanogenic plants, suggesting that plant defences reduce the strength of herbivore‐mediated selection. Pollinators did not independently affect selection on any trait, although pollinators weakened selection for later flowering among cyanogenic plants. Overall, cyanogenic plant defences consistently increased the strength of positive directional selection on reproductive traits. Herbivores and pollinators both strengthened and weakened the strength of selection on reproductive traits, although herbivores imposed ~2.7× stronger selection than pollinators across all traits. Contrary to the view that pollinators are the most important agents of selection on reproductive traits, our data show that selection on reproductive traits is driven primarily by variation in herbivory and plant defences in this system.