U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Barton, K.E., and A.B. Shiels. 2020. Additive and non-additive responses of seedlings to simulated herbivory and drought. Biotropica 52(6):1217-1228.

doi: 10.1111/btp.12829


US gov't work


Drought is a global threat, increasing in severity and frequency throughout tropical ecosystems. Although plants often face drought in conjunction with biotic stressors, such as herbivory or disease, experimental studies infrequently test the simultaneous effects of drought and biotic stress. Because multiple simultaneous stressors may have non-additive and complex effects on plant performance, it is difficult to predict plant responses to multiple threats from research examining one stress at a time. Using an experimental approach in the greenhouse, we investigated potential non-additivity in seedling growth and survival to simulated drought and herbivory across a phylogenetically diverse pool of ten Hawaiian plant species. Overall, seedlings showed limited tolerance, defined as similar growth and survival in stressed compared with control (non-stressed) plants, to simulated herbivory and drought, with the combined effects of both stressors to be generally additive and negative across species. Significant variation in stress tolerance was detected among species, and species variation was explained, at least in part, by functional traits such that species with larger root/shoot ratios and smaller seeds, tended to demonstrate greater herbivory and drought tolerance. Future research incorporating additional trait analysis and different stressors could shed light on mechanisms underlying seedling stress tolerance and clarify whether additivity, as detected in this study, extends across other combinations of stressors. Such work will provide needed insights into the regeneration of seedlings in tropical forests under threats of herbivory and climate change.