Plant Ecology and Evolution 152(3): 417-425, doi: 10.5091/plecevo.2019.1593
The cost of deer to trees: changes in resource allocation from growth-related traits and phenolic content to structural defence
expand article infoJulien Barrere, Xavier Morin, Sonia Saïd§, Vincent Boulanger|, Nick Rowe, Bernard Amiaud#, Marianne Bernard
‡ CEFE UMR 5175, CNRS – Université de Montpellier – Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier – EPHE, 1919 Route de Mende, F-34293 Montpellier, France§ Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage, Direction Recherche et Expertises, Unité Ongulés Sauvages, ‘‘Montfort”, 01330 Birieux, France| Office National des Forêts, Département Recherche, Développement et Innovation, Boulevard de Constance, 77300 Fontainebleau, France¶ AMAP, Université de Montpellier, CNRS, CIRAD, INRA, IRD, Boulevard de la Lironde, F-34398 Montpellier, France# UMR Silva, Université de Lorraine, AgroParisTech, INRA, Rue d’Amance, 54280 Champenoux, France
Open Access

Background and aims – Plants may use various defence mechanisms to protect their tissues against deer browsing and the allocation of resources to defence may trade-off with plants’ growth. In a context of increasing deer populations in European forests, understanding the resource allocation strategies of trees is critical to better assess their ability to face an increasing browsing pressure. The aim of this study was to determine how deer removal affects the resource allocation to both defensive and growth-related traits in field conditions for three tree species (Abies alba, Picea abies and Fagus sylvatica).

Methods – We compared eight pairs of fenced-unfenced plots to contrast plots with and without browsing pressure. The pairs were set up in 2005 and 2014 to compare different fencing duration. We measured leaf and shoot traits related to the defence against herbivores (phenolic content, structural resistance, C:N ratio) and to the investment in plants’ growth and productivity (specific leaf area and nutrient content).

Key results – For the three species, the structural resistance of leaves and shoots was negatively correlated with SLA, nutrient content and phenolic content. For Abies alba, exclusion of deer decreased shoot structural resistance in favour of higher nutrient content, SLA and phenolic content. The fencing duration had no effect on the different measured traits.

Conclusions – Our results support the assumption of a trade-off between structural defence and growth-related traits at the intraspecific scale for the three studied species. We also confirmed the hypothesis that exposure to deer browsing is involved in the resource allocation of woody species. For Abies alba, fencing led to a change in resource allocation from structural defence to growth-related traits and chemical defence.

deer browsing, functional traits, mixed forests, resource allocation, chemical defence, structural defence, fencing experiment


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