Patterns of growth, reproduction, defense, and herbivory in the dioecious shrub Baccharis halimifolia (Compositae)

Vera Aber Krischik, Robert F. Denno

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63 Scopus citations


Patterns of growth, reproduction, defense (leaf resin) and herbivory were compared between the sexes of the dioecious shrub Baccharis halimifolia (Compositae). Male plants possessed longer shoots and more tender leaves, grew faster, and flowered and senesced earlier than female plants. Levels of leaf nitrogen, water content, and acetone-soluble resin (shown to deter feeding by polyphagous insect herbivores) did not differ between male and female plants. When offered a choice between leaves from male and female plants, adults of two leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae), the monophagous Trirhabda bacharidis and the polyphagous Paria thoracica, both preferred to feed on male leaves. Similarly, the daily fecundity of older females of T. bacharidis was higher when they were fed leaves from male compared to female plants. However, adult survivorship and total fecundity of T. baccharidis did not differ between male and female leaf treatments. We attribute the feeding preference for and slight increase in fecundity on male plants to the tenderness of male leaves. Larvae of the fly Tephritis subpura (Tephritidae) fed exclusively in the sterile receptacle of male flower heads (85% infested), but the phenology was such that pollen production was not adversely affected. Larvae of two other flies Dasineura sp. and Contarinia sp. (Cecidomyiidae) occupied >95% of only female flower heads where they fed among and on the developing seeds. We conclude that foliage-feeding herbivores are unlikely candidates to explain the female-biased sex ratio (59% female) of B. halimifolia plants in the field, and that their preference for male plants is a result of plant characteristics (e.g. rapid growth) that have been selected by some other factor. However, our data on selective floral herbivory in B. halimifolia are in accord with the argument that dioecy reduces the inadvertent loss of flower parts of one sex when herbivores feed on flower parts of the opposite sex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-190
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1990


  • Baccharis halimifolia
  • Dioecy
  • Sex-related growth
  • Sex-related herbivory


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