Klooster, Matthew R. , Culley, Theresa M. .
Cryptic mimicry functions as an effective plant defense strategy for herbivore avoidance in the myco-heterotroph, Monotropsis odorata (Ericaceae).
Cryptic mimicry is a well-documented defense adaptation, functioning to increase individual fitness by reducing attacks from visually guided predators. Organisms that exhibit this defense strategy often possess cryptic coloration in addition to a behavior or morphology that protectively mimics an object in the environment, rendering the appearance of prey undetectable, undesirable or unpalatable to predators. Although a substantial body of functional data supports cryptic mimicry as a defense adaptation in animal systems, it has only been hypothesized to exist in select plant taxa and remains experimentally untested. Here we show for the first time, through empirical manipulations and quantitative assessment of the visual spectrum, that the plant species Monotropsis odorata possesses adaptive morphology and coloration that mimics leaf-litter, and this functions as a defense strategy for avoiding attacks from visually guided herbivores. M. odorata is of particular interest due to its non-photosynthetic, myco-heterotrophic life history (i.e., carbon resources are obtained from symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi) and the implications this may have for the evolution of mimetic coloration, useful for plant defense. While reproductive stems of most closely related myco-heterotrophic species exhibit coloration (such as white, yellow, and red) that contrasts with natural substrates, only M. odorata stems appear camouflaged. Additionally, the unique reproductive stems of this species offered us the ability to experimentally manipulate its morphological appearance and coloration, without adding artificial compounds or damaging viable tissue. Our results empirically support the hypothesis that cryptic mimicry has evolved in plants as an effective defense adaptation, reducing the frequency of herbivore attacks and thereby increasing plant fitness.
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1 - University of Cincinnati, Department of Biological Sciences, 614 Rieveschl Hall, Cincinnati, OH, 45221-0006, USA
2 - University of Cincinnati, Department of Biological Sciences, 614 Rieveschl Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45221, USA
Presentation Type: Oral Paper:Papers for Sections
Date: Tuesday, July 29th, 2008
Time: 11:00 AM