Plants have limited resources to invest in reproduction, vegetative growth and defense against herbivorous. Trade-off in resources allocation promotes changes in plant traits that may affect higher trophic levels. In this study, we evaluated the trade-off effect between years of high and low fruiting on the investment of resources for growth and defense, and their indirect effects on herbivory in Copaifera langsdorffii. Our questions were: (i) does the resource investment on reproduction causes a depletion in vegetative growth as predicted by the Carbon/Nutrient Balance hypothesis (CNBH), resulting in more availability of resources to be allocated for defense?, (ii) does the variation in resource allocation for growth and defense between years of high and low fruiting leads to indirect changes in herbivory? Thirty-five trees located in a Cerrado area were monitored during 2008 (year of high fruiting) and 2009 (year of no fruiting) to evaluate the differential investment in vegetative traits (biomass, growth and number of ramifications), plant defense (tannin concentration and plant hypersensitivity) and herbivory (galling attack and folivory). According to our first question, we observed that in the fruiting year, woody biomass negatively affected tannin concentration, indicating that fruit production restricted the resources that could be invested both in growth as in defense. In the same way, we observed an inter-annual variation in herbivorous attack, and found that plants with higher leaf biomass and tannin concentration, experienced higher galling attack and hypersensitive reaction, regardless years. These findings suggested that plants’ resistance to herbivory is a good proxy of plant defense and an effective defense strategy for C. langsdorffii, besides the evidence of indirect responses of the third trophic, as postulated by the second question. In summary, the supra-annual fruiting pattern promoted several changes on plant development, demonstrating the importance of evaluating different plant traits when characterizing the vegetative investment. As expected by theory, the trade-off in resource allocation favored changes in defense compounds production and patterns of herbivory. The understanding of this important element of insect-plant interactions will be fundamental to decipher coevolutionary life histories and interactions between plant species reproduction and herbivory. Besides that, only through long-term studies we will be able to build models and develop more accurate forecasts about the factors that trigger the bottom-up effect on herbivory performance, as well the top-down effect of herbivores on plant trait evolution.
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