Effects of simulated rodent herbivory on Carey's balsamroot (Balsamorhiza careyana): compensatory leaf growth

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Biological Sciences

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Herbivores typically have negative effects on plant fitness, but many plants can compensate for herbivory by reallocating resources to replace lost tissue. We tested whether a common herbaceous plant of the shrub-steppe could compensate for leaf removal by rodents during spring when resource demands are high because plants are simultaneously growing leaves and flower stalks. We compared leaf and flower stalk production of Carey's balsamroot (Balsamorhiza careyana) on control and experimentally clipped plants (0, 20, or 40% of leaves removed). Clipped plants grew more new leaves than controls, catching up in total number of leaves by 6 weeks after clipping. The number of flower stalks did not differ, but a higher proportion of flower heads on clipped plants were broken off by herbivores or wilting. One year after clipping, control and clipped plants did not differ significantly in leaf number, leaf area, or flower production. Our data suggest that Carey's balsamroot can compensate for partial leaf removal by herbivores early in the growing season. Energy and nutrient storage in the stout taproot of Carey's balsamroot may contribute to its ability to replace lost tissues. Despite the apparent ability of this shrub-steppe herb to tolerate typical levels of rodent herbivory, plants attacked by rodents may be more susceptible to premature flower loss, thus lowering reproductive capacity.


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