Resource sharing within clonal plant networks can occur via the translocation of water, nutrients, and photoassimilates through rhizomes and stolons. Similar mechanisms may mediate the sharing of information (e.g., about herbivory or other environmental stressors) among ramets via molecular or biochemical signals. The storage of such information in belowground structures could facilitate the transmission of appropriate phenotypic responses across growing seasons in perennial species. However, few previous studies have explored the potential transfer of ecologically relevant information within such networks. This study addresses the effects of foliar herbivory and belowground overwintering on the growth and flowering, physical defenses, and herbivore resistance in the clonally spreading species Solanum carolinense L. (Solanaceae). We used rhizomes from inbred and outbred plants that were repeatedly exposed to feeding damage by Manduca sexta L. (Sphingidae) caterpillars and rhizomes from undamaged control plants. These rhizomes were either planted immediately or exposed to overwintering conditions and allowed to produce new ramets (rhizomatous offshoots). We then assessed offshoot emergence, flowering, physical defense traits, and herbivore performance. Relative to controls, offshoots of herbivore-damaged plants exhibited greater spine and trichome densities, and reduced performance of M. sexta larvae. However, they also emerged and flowered significantly later, and produced fewer flowers than offshoots of undamaged plants. Inbreeding also negatively affected offshoot emergence, flowering, trichome production, and herbivore resistance. These effects of parental herbivory were more pronounced in outbred offshoots, indicating that inbreeding may compromise the trans-seasonal induction of plant defenses. Finally, exposure to overwintering conditions increased trichome production and reduced caterpillar performance on offshoots. Together, these results show that induced defenses can be transmitted through rhizomes and affect offshoot growth, flowering, defensive traits, and herbivore resistance. They also document fitness-related costs associated with defense induction in offshoots and suggest that the transfer of defenses across seasons can be compromised by inbreeding.
Nihranz, C.T., Kolstrom, R.L., Kariyat, R.R. et al. Herbivory and inbreeding affect growth, reproduction, and resistance in the rhizomatous offshoots of Solanum carolinense (Solanaceae). Evol Ecol 33, 499–520 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10682-019-09997-w
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