Seedling herbivory by slugs in a willow hybrid system: developmental changes in damage, chemical defense, and plant performance

Research paper by Robert S. Fritz, Cris G. Hochwender, Debra A. Lewkiewicz, Sara Bothwell, Colin M. Orians

Indexed on: 01 Sep '01Published on: 01 Sep '01Published in: Oecologia


We evaluated feeding preference and damage by the slug, Arion subfuscus, on seedlings of two willow species, Salix sericea and S. eriocephala, and their F1 interspecific hybrids. Trays of seedlings were placed in the field and excised leaves were presented to slugs in choice tests. Slugs preferred feeding on and caused the most damage to S. eriocephala seedlings. S. sericea seedlings were least preferred and least damaged. F1 hybrid seedlings were intermediate in preference and damage. Slug preference of and damage to these seedlings decreased over time, suggesting developmental changes in resistance. Seedlings were sampled for phenolic glycoside and tannin chemistry weekly to coincide with the field and laboratory experiments. Concentrations of phenolic glycosides and tannins increased linearly with seedling age, coincident with changes in slug preference and damage, indicating a developmental change in defense. Slug deterrence was not detected at low concentrations of salicortin when painted on leaves or discs, but both salicortin and condensed tannins deterred slug feeding at concentrations between 50 and 100 mg/g, levels found in adult willows. Seedling performance was related to damage inflicted by slugs. Due to lower levels of damage when exposed to slugs in the field, S. sericea plants had significantly greater biomass than S. eriocephala plants. Biomass of F1 hybrids was equal to S. sericea when damaged. However, undamaged S. eriocephala and F1 hybrid plants had the greatest biomass. Because F1 hybrid seedlings performed as well as the most fit parent in all cases, slugs could be an important selective factor favoring introgression of defensive traits between these willow species.