Effects of simulated herbivory on defensive compounds in forage plants of Norwegian alpine rangelands

E. R. Saetnan, George O. Batzli

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A field study on the effects of current grazing practices on plants in central Norway found no increase in either phenolic compounds or proteinase inhibitors in plants subjected to grazing by sheep. This could either reflect insufficient damage to the plants due to low grazing intensity or a lack of a long-term response of the plants to grazing. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that damage to forage plants used by sheep and rodents in Norwegian alpine rangelands can stimulate a long-term (at least 2-week) increase in levels of defensive compounds. We used clipping experiments to manipulate the severity and timing of damage to eight species of common plants used by herbivores in Norway. Under greenhouse conditions (i.e., climate-controlled), we subjected mature plants to one of four clipping treatments: control (0% leaf tissue removed), low (10–15% leaf tissue removed), high (70–75% leaf tissue removed), or sustained (15% of leaf tissue removed every other day up to a total removal of 75%, i.e., five clippings over 9 days). Samples were collected 2 weeks after final clipping and analyzed for concentrations of total phenolics, proteinase inhibitors, ratio of total phenolics to soluble proteins, and ratio of proteinase inhibitors to soluble plant proteins. As expected, the different species of plants responded differently to simulated herbivory, but most plants either showed no response to mechanical wounding and tissue loss or had reduced defensive compounds. Thus, our results do not support the hypothesis that herbivory induces a long-term increase in defensive compounds in alpine rangelands of Norway, a result consistent with those from field studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-475
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2009


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