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On the Ecology of Selenium Accumulation in Plants

Pilon-Smits, Elizabeth A. H.
Plants 2019 v.8 no.7
allelopathy, ecosystems, environmental impact, food chain, herbivores, hyperaccumulators, mutualism, pathogens, pollinators, selenium, species diversity, symbionts, toxicity, trophic levels, vegetation cover
Plants accumulate and tolerate Se to varying degrees, up to 15,000 mg Se/kg dry weight for Se hyperaccumulators. Plant Se accumulation may exert positive or negative effects on other species in the community. The movement of plant Se into ecological partners may benefit them at low concentrations, but cause toxicity at high concentrations. Thus, Se accumulation can protect plants against Se-sensitive herbivores and pathogens (elemental defense) and reduce surrounding vegetation cover via high-Se litter deposition (elemental allelopathy). While hyperaccumulators negatively impact Se-sensitive ecological partners, they offer a niche for Se-tolerant partners, including beneficial microbial and pollinator symbionts as well as detrimental herbivores, pathogens, and competing plant species. These ecological effects of plant Se accumulation may facilitate the evolution of Se resistance in symbionts. Conversely, Se hyperaccumulation may evolve driven by increasing Se resistance in herbivores, pathogens, or plant neighbors; Se resistance also evolves in mutualist symbionts, minimizing the plant’s ecological cost. Interesting topics to address in future research are whether the ecological impacts of plant Se accumulation may affect species composition across trophic levels (favoring Se resistant taxa), and to what extent Se hyperaccumulators form a portal for Se into the local food chain and are important for Se cycling in the local ecosystem.