Papers in the Biological Sciences


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Published in American Naturalist 171 (February 2008), pp. 141–149. DOI: 10.1086/524961 Copyright (c) 2007 by The University of Chicago Press. Used by permission.


Plant reproduction yields immediate fitness benefits but can be costly in terms of survival, growth, and future fecundity. Lifehistory theory posits that reproductive strategies are shaped by tradeoffs between current and future fitness that result from these direct costs of reproduction. Plant reproduction may also incur indirect ecological costs if it increases susceptibility to herbivores. Yet ecological costs of reproduction have received little empirical attention and remain poorly integrated into life-history theory. Here, we provide evidence for herbivore-mediated ecological costs of reproduction, and we develop theory to examine how these costs influence plant life-history strategies. Field experiments with an iteroparous cactus (Opuntia imbricata) indicated that greater reproductive effort (proportion of meristems allocated to reproduction) led to greater attack by a cactus-feeding insect (Narnia pallidicornis) and that damage by this herbivore reduced reproductive success. A dynamic programming model predicted strongly divergent optimal reproductive strategies when ecological costs were included, compared with when these costs were ignored. Meristem allocation by cacti in the field matched the optimal strategy expected under ecological costs of reproduction. The results indicate that plant reproductive allocation can strongly influence the intensity of interactions with herbivores and that associated ecological costs can play an important selective role in the evolution of plant life histories.

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