DOI: 10.1093/evolut/qpad155 ISSN:

Tissue and toxin-specific divergent evolution in plant defense

Xosé López-Goldar, Anurag A Agrawal
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


A major predicted constraint on the evolution of anti-herbivore defense in plants is the non-independent expression of traits mediating resistance. Since herbivore attack can be highly variable across plant tissues, we hypothesized that correlations in toxin expression within and between plant tissues may limit population differentiation and, thus, plant adaptation. Using full-sib families from two nearby (<1 km) common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) populations, we investigated genetic correlations among 28 distinct cardenolide toxins within and between roots, leaves and seeds, and examined signatures of tissue-specific divergent selection between populations by QST–FST comparisons. The prevalence, direction and strength of genetic correlations among cardenolides were tissue-specific, and concentrations of individual cardenolides were moderately correlated between tissues; nonetheless, the direction and strength of correlations were population-specific. Population divergence in the cardenolide chemistry was stronger in roots than in leaves and seeds. Divergent selection on individual cardenolides was tissue- and toxin-specific, except for a single highly toxic cardenolide (labriformin), that showed divergent selection across all plant tissues. Heterogeneous evolution of cardenolides within and between tissues across populations appears possible due to their highly independent expression. This independence may be common in nature, especially in specialized interactions in which distinct herbivores feed on different plant tissues.

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