Indirect suppression of photosynthesis on individual leaves by arthropod herbivory

Paul D. Nabity, Jorge A. Zavala, Evan H. DeLucia

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Background: Herbivory reduces leaf area, disrupts the function of leaves, and ultimately alters yield and productivity. Herbivore damage to foliage typically is assessed in the field by measuring the amount of leaf tissue removed and disrupted. This approach assumes the remaining tissues are unaltered, and plant photosynthesis and water balance function normally. However, recent application of thermal and fluorescent imaging technologies revealed that alterations to photosynthesis and transpiration propagate into remaining undamaged leaf tissue. Scope and Conclusions: This review briefly examines the indirect effects of herbivory on photosynthesis, measured by gas exchange or chlorophyll fluorescence, and identifies four mechanisms contributing to the indirect suppression of photosynthesis in remaining leaf tissues: severed vasculature, altered sink demand, defence-induced autotoxicity, and defence-induced down-regulation of photosynthesis. We review the chlorophyll fluorescence and thermal imaging techniques used to gather layers of spatial data and discuss methods for compiling these layers to achieve greater insight into mechanisms contributing to the indirect suppression of photosynthesis. We also elaborate on a few herbivore-induced gene-regulating mechanisms which modulate photosynthesis and discuss the difficult nature of measuring spatial heterogeneity when combining fluorescence imaging and gas exchange technology. Although few studies have characterized herbivore-induced indirect effects on photosynthesis at the leaf level, an emerging literature suggests that the loss of photosynthetic capacity following herbivory may be greater than direct loss of photosynthetic tissues. Depending on the damage guild, ignoring the indirect suppression of photosynthesis by arthropods and other organisms may lead to an underestimate of their physiological and ecological impacts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)655-663
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of botany
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 1 2009


  • Autotoxicity
  • Chlorophyll fluorescence imaging
  • Induced defences
  • Jasmonates
  • Plant-insect interactions
  • Spatial patterns
  • Thermography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science

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