Abstract

Herbivore mediated-selection shapes the evolution of defensive plant traits. Knowledge about the role of herbivores as mediators of selection is scarce and even more if herbivore functional groups are considered. The objectives of this work were (1) to describe the variation in foliar traits between populations and both between and intra-plants within a population, (2) to explore the relationship between the variation in the herbivory level and foliar traits, (3) to determine the relationship between leaf traits and damage patterns and (4) estimate the selection regimes by different herbivore functional groups. We conducted this study in four populations of Vassobia breviflora in northwestern Argentina (Yungas). The foliar traits considered were size, leaf area (af), shape (leaf length / width ratio; laf) and proportion of leaf area removed (pafr) (N = 1582 leaves, 57 plants). The herbivores consumed 15.6 % of the leaf area and 76.8 % of the variation in the pafr occurred at the sub-individual level. The damage pattern was dominated by cutter herbivores (70 %), followed by a dotted herbivory pattern (22 %), mixed 5 % and 1 % miner. Nonlinear selection was detected for laf (γii = -0.180; EE = 0.76; P < 0.05), and correlational selection between the cutter damage and af (γij = -1.297; SE = 0.62; P < 0.05) and between the dotted damage and af (γij = -1.130; SE = 0.76; P < 0.05). Natural selection favored plants with small leaves and high foliar removal and large leaves with less damage and selection against larger leaves with greater damage was detected. In addition, deduced from the relationship between the damage type and the relative fitness, the selection would favor the dotted damage over the cutter one. The plants would resolve the conflict with the herbivores according to the damage type and natural selection would regulate the foliar display as a strategy to deal with the herbivore diversity.