Interspecific Competition Affects Growth and Herbivore Damage of Brassica napus in the Field

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Resource competition can influence plant fitness either directly, or indirectly by influencing the amount of herbivore damage received by plants in the field. We previously found that competition could constrain the constitutive and woundinduced expression of defensive trypsin inhibitors in pot-grown Brassica napus seedlings in the greenhouse, suggesting that the ability of a plant to chemically defend itself could be constrained by competition in the field. Guided by these results, we investigated whether competition would affect growth and the presence of herbivores and herbivore damage on B. napus plants in the field. We established sixteen 1 m 2 plots in the field in a 7 x7 mgrid. Nine two-week-old B. napus seedlings were transplanted from the greenhouse into each 1 m 2 plot. Half of the plots were kept weed-free and half were left to develop interspecific weed competi-tors.After six weeks, three randomly chosen plants in each plot were measured for height, number of leaves, leaf area removed by herbivores, and the presence of aphids, leaf miners, and eggs of ladybird beetles. Consistent with the induction of the shade-avoidance response, plants in plots with weed competitors were significantly taller and had half as many leaves as plants in weed-free plots. Competing plants also had 60% more leaf arearemoved by herbivores, an 80% higher proportion of leaves with aphids, and an equal proportion of leaves with leaf miners. In this study, weed competition had dramatic effects on growth, leaf area removal by herbivores, and the presence of aphids on B. napus plants in the field. Together with our demonstration that competition can constrain the expression of trypsin inhibitor activity, these results suggest that resource competition may limit theability of a plant to defend itself from natural enemies, leading to greater herbivory. In turn, increased herbivory on competing plants could exacerbate the direct effects of competition on plant fitness.