Costs of induced defenses for the invasive plant houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale L.) and the potential importance for weed biocontrol
Inducible plant defenses - those produced in response to herbivore feeding - are thought to have evolved as a cost-saving tactic that allows plants to enact defenses only when needed. The costs of defense can be significant, and loss of plant fitness due to commitment of resources to induced defenses could affect plant populations and play a role in determining the success or failure of weed biocontrol. We used methyl jasmonate (MeJA) to experimentally induce defenses without herbivores in invasive houndstongue plants (Cynoglossum officinale L.) in the field and measured resulting growth and fitness (plant size, seed number, and seed weight). MeJA-treated plants emitted large amounts of plant volatiles and produced leaves with twice as many trichomes as untreated plants. Plants with activated defenses had fewer leaves, were smaller, and produced nutlets that weighed less than plants not investing in defenses. These data indicate that herbivore-induced defenses are costly for houndstongue plants in their invaded range and represent significant indirect costs of herbivory beyond direct feeding damage (e.g., loss of photosynthetic tissue). Notably, the magnitude of defenses elicited upon feeding varies greatly by herbivore species and a better understanding of the costs of defense could help us predict which potential biocontrol herbivores are most likely to be effective.