Selection pressure, the driving force of evolution, induces changes in the genetic composition of a population. It works like this: if insects inflict too much damage on plants, the plants can't reproduce as successfully. This sets up a situation in which any plants that, by chance, have inherited insect-deterring traits are at an advantage. Because of that advantage, such traits are likely to spread through the population, urged on by "pressure" from the insects.
Researchers Rachel Vannette and Mark Hunter investigated whether different genetic "families" of the common milkweed from a single population in Northern Michigan would respond differently to increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and if so, how those responses might affect the plants' chances of being eaten by insects.
"Specifically, we examined the response of milkweed plants to elevated carbon dioxide in terms of plant growth, asexual reproduction, and the production of chemical and physical defenses," Vannette said. Although all plants grew larger in response to elevated carbon dioxide, and all plant families showed similar growth and reproductive responses, plant families responded differently to elevated carbon dioxide in their production of chemical and physical defenses against plant-eating insects.
In particular, their production of heart poisons called cardenolides differed. While some plant families responded to elevated carbon dioxide by increasing cardenolide production, most decreased production—by as much as 50 percent.
"That's a big difference if you're a caterpillar," said Vannette, who is a graduate student in Hunter's research group. Hunter is the Henry A. Gleason Collegiate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Because the insects that consume milkweed, including monarch caterpillars, choose their host plants carefully and select specific plants based on the plants' concentration of toxic compounds, these specialist insects can act as agents of selection on milkweed plants.
Countering the shift away from chemical defenses was a shift toward physical defenses and resistance. "The plants had tougher leaves, and they were better at tolerating herbivory by caterpillars—they grew back faster," Vannette said.
Taken together, the results provide evidence that in response to elevated carbon dioxide, genetically-based differences in plant defense mechanisms and the changing plant-insect interactions that result may influence how plants adapt to changing climate.
Will the plants' changing defense strategies help or hinder monarchs?
"We don't know yet," Vannette said, "but that's a question we're investigating."
The findings appear in the March issue of Global Change Biology.
Conducted at the U-M Biological Station near Pellston, Michigan, the research was funded by the National Science Foundation.
U-M Sustainability fosters a more sustainable world through collaborations across campus and beyond aimed at educating students, generating new knowledge, and minimizing our environmental footprint. Learn more at sustainability.umich.eduContact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan
Nancy Ross-Flanigan | EurekAlert!
Dune ecosystem modelling
23.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Information Technology