Landscape Variation in Plant Defense Syndromes across a Tropical Rainforest

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Kelly M McManus1, Gregory P Asner1,2, Roberta Martin3 and Christopher B Field4, (1)Stanford Earth Sciences, Stanford, CA, United States, (2)Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Global Ecology, Washington, DC, United States, (3)Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington, CA, United States, (4)Carnegie Inst Washington, Washington, DC, United States
Plant defenses against herbivores shape tropical rainforest biodiversity, yet community- and landscape-scale patterns of plant defense and the phylogenetic and environmental factors that may shape them are poorly known. We measured foliar defense, growth, and longevity traits for 345 canopy trees across 84 species in a tropical rainforest and examined whether patterns of trait co-variation indicated the existence of plant defense syndromes. Using a DNA-barcode phylogeny and remote sensing and land-use data, we investigated how phylogeny and topo-edaphic properties influenced the distribution of syndromes. We found evidence for three distinct defense syndromes, characterized by rapid growth, growth compensated by defense, or limited palatability/low nutrition. Phylogenetic signal was generally lower for defense traits than traits related to growth or longevity. Individual defense syndromes were organized at different taxonomic levels and responded to different spatial-environmental gradients. The results suggest that a diverse set of tropical canopy trees converge on a limited number of strategies to secure resources and mitigate fitness losses due to herbivory, with patterns of distribution mediated by evolutionary histories and local habitat associations. Plant defense syndromes are multidimensional plant strategies, and thus are a useful means of discerning ecologically-relevant variation in highly diverse tropical rainforest communities. Scaling this approach to the landscape level, if plant defense syndromes can be distinguished in remotely-sensed data, they may yield new insights into the role of plant defense in structuring diverse tropical rainforest communities.