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Move over predators: Plants can control the food chain too -- from the bottom up
Date:3/25/2010

some favored fast growth and the ability to attract predators while putting less energy into resisting herbivores.

The study found that one of the major factors leading to greater milkweed biomass (or growth) is the production of volatile compounds called sesquiterpenes, which attract such predators as aphid-eating ladybugs. But surprisingly, the plants' biomass increases regardless of whether ladybugs or other aphid predators are present.

The reason, the researchers suggest, is because the trait to produce sesquiterpenes appears genetically linked to faster growth; the strategy here is to replace leaves faster than they can be eaten. At the same time, milkweed species that put more energy into growing faster put less energy into resisting such pests as aphids.

"Because no species can do everything, milkweeds that grow fast necessarily have lower resistance to aphids," said Agrawal. "Thus species that grow fast benefit the most from predators" of aphids.

The findings have implications for agriculture, as conventional strategies for controlling pests often involve spraying insecticides, said Agrawal. "By including the evolutionary history in our understanding of natural pest management, we gain insight into plant strategies that have stood the test of time, and this may provide hints for breeding crops with traits that ensure robust lines of defense," he added.


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Contact: Blaine Friedlander
bpf2@cornell.edu
607-254-8093
Cornell University
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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