Resource availability may limit plant tolerance of herbivory. To predict the effect of differential resource availability on plant tolerance, the limiting resource model (LRM) considers which resource limits plant fitness and which resource is mostly affected by herbivore damage. We tested the effect of experimental drought on tolerance of leaf damage in Ipomoea purpurea, which is naturally exposed to both leaf damage and summer drought. To seek mechanistic explanations, we also measured several morphological, allocation and gas exchange traits. In this case, LRM predicts that tolerance would be the same in both water treatments. Plants were assigned to a combination of two water treatments (control and low water) and two damage treatments (50% defoliation and undamaged). Plants showed tolerance of leaf damage, i.e., a similar number of fruits were produced by damaged and undamaged plants, only in control water. Whereas experimental drought affected all plant traits, leaf damage caused plants to show a greater leaf trichome density and reduced shoot biomass, but only in low water. It is suggested that the reduced fitness (number of fruits) of damaged plants in low water was mediated by the differential reduction of shoot biomass, because the number of fruits per shoot biomass was similar in damaged and undamaged plants. Alternative but less likely explanations include the opposing direction of functional responses to drought and defoliation, and resource costs of the damage-induced leaf trichome density. Our results somewhat challenge the LRM predictions, but further research including field experiments is needed to validate some of the preliminary conclusions drawn.
- Ipomoea purpurea
- Resource availability