Tolerance and plant compensation

Plant compensation is a term that refers to the degree of tolerance exhibited by plants. If damaged plants have greater fitness than their undamaged counterparts, they have overcompensated, and if they have lower fitness, they have undercompensated for herbivory (Strauss & Agrawal, 1999). Individual plants can compensate for the effects of herbivory in a variety of ways. In the first place, the removal of shaded leaves (with their normal rates of respiration but low rates of photosynthesis; see Chapter 3) may improve the balance between photosynthesis and respiration in the plant as a whole. Second, in the immediate aftermath of an attack from a herbivore, many plants compensate by utilizing reserves stored in a variety of tissues and organs or by altering the distribution of photosynthate within the plant. Herbivore damage may also lead to an increase in the rate of photosynthesis per unit area of surviving leaf. Often, there is compensatory regrowth of defoliated plants when buds that would otherwise remain dormant are stimulated to develop. There is also, commonly, a reduced death rate of surviving plant parts. Clearly, then, there are a number of ways in which individual plants compensate for the effects of herbivory (discussed further in Sections 9.2.3-9.2.5). But perfect compensation is rare. Plants are usually harmed by herbivores even though the compensatory reactions tend to counteract the harmful effects.

individual plants can compensate for herbivore effects

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