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Interaction effect between herbivory and plant fertilization on extrafloral nectar production and on seed traits: an experimental study with Ricinus communis (Euphorbiaceae)


It is known that the release of volatile chemicals by many plants can attract the natural enemies of herbivorous insects. Such indirect interactions are likely when plants produce nectar from their extrafloral nectaries, and particularly when the production of extrafloral nectar (EFN) is induced by herbivory. In the present study, we conducted experiments to test whether foliar herbivory inflicted by Spodoptera frugiperda Smith (Noctuidae) increases nectar production by extrafloral nectaries on one of its host plants, Ricinus communis L. (Euphorbiaceae). Due to the current economic importance of R. communis, we also investigated whether the following seed traits-water content, dry mass, and essential oil production-are negatively affected by herbi- vory. Finally, we tested whether or not nectar production and seed traits are influenced by plant fertilization (plant quality). We found that nectar production was increased after herbivory, but it was not affected by the type of fertilization. Seed dry mass was higher in plants that were subjected to full fertilization, without herbivory; plants maintained in low fertilization conditions, however, had higher seed mass when subjected to herbivory. The same inverted pattern was observed for oil production. Therefore, our results suggest that EFN production in R. communis may act as an indirect defense strategy against herbivores, and that there is a trade-off between reproduction and plant growth when low-fertilized plants are subjected to herbivory. (AU)

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