Season and light affect constitutive defenses of understory shrub species against folivorous insects

Piotr Karolewski, Marian J. Giertych, Michał Zmuda, Andrzej M. Jagodziński, Jacek Oleksyn

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40 Scopus citations


Understory shrubs contribute to overall species diversity, providing habitat and forage for animals, influence soil chemistry and forest microclimate. However, very little is known about the chemical defense of various shrub species against folivorous insects. Using six shrub species, we tested how seasonal changes and light conditions affect their constitutive defense to insect damage. We monitored leaf perforation, concentrations of total phenols, condensed tannins, nitrogen (N), and total nonstructural carbohydrates (TNC). Leaf damage caused by insects was low in Sambucus nigra, Cornus sanguinea, and Frangula alnus, intermediate in Corylus avellana and Prunus serotina, and high in Prunus padus. Leaves of all the species, when growing in high light conditions, had high concentrations of defense metabolites. Except for C.avellana, leaves of the other shrub species growing in full sun were less injured than those in shade. This may be due to higher concentrations of defense metabolites and lower concentrations of nitrogen. Similar patterns of the effects of light on metabolites studied and N were observed for leaves with varying location within the crown of individual shrubs (from the top of the south direction to the bottom of the north), as for leaves from shrubs growing in full sun and shrubs in the shade of canopy trees. A probable cause of the greater damage of more sunlit leaves of C.avellana was the fact that they were herbivorized mostly by Altica brevicollis, a specialist insect that prefers plant tissues with a high TNC level and is not very sensitive to a high level of phenolic compounds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-32
Number of pages14
JournalActa Oecologica
StatePublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, Poland (Grant no. N309 002 31/0246 ). We thank Dr. Lee Frelich from the University of Minnesota, USA, for reviewing the final version of the manuscript.


  • Defense compounds
  • Herbivore insect
  • Light
  • Nitrogen
  • TNC
  • Understory shrubs

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