Mechanisms of tolerance to herbivore damage: What do we know?

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Identifying mechanisms of tolerance to herbivore damage will facilitate attempts to understand the role of tolerance in the evolutionary and ecological dynamics of plants and herbivores. Investigations of the physiological and morphological changes that occur in plants in response to herbivore damage have identified several potential mechanisms of tolerance. However, it is unlikely that all physiological changes that occur following damage are tolerance mechanisms. Few studies have made direct comparisons between the expression of tolerance and the relative expression of putative mechanisms. I briefly review empirical evidence for some of the better-studied potential mechanisms, including increased photosynthetic activity, compensatory growth, utilization of stored reserves, and phenological delays. For each of these mechanisms I discuss reasons why the relationship between tolerance and these characters may be more complicated than it first appears. I conclude by discussing several empirical approaches, including herbivore manipulations, quantitative trait loci (QTL) analysis, and selection experiments, that will further our understanding of tolerance mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)523-536
Number of pages14
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
Issue number4-6
StatePublished - 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I thank Donald F. Cipollini, Thomas Juenger, Rodney Mauricio, Jennifer S. Powers, and John R. Stinchcombe for discussion and comments that improved an earlier version of this manuscript. I received financial support through National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program/USDA (Award # 99-35301-8076) during the preparation of this manuscript.


  • Compensation
  • Empirical approaches
  • Herbivory
  • Plant defense
  • Plant-herbivore interaction
  • Tolerance mechanisms


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