Salicylic acid-mediated reductions in yield in Nicotiana attenuata challenged by aphid herbivory

Michael P. Donovan, Paul D. Nabity, Evan H. Delucia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aphid herbivory decreases primary production in natural ecosystems and reduces crop yields. The mechanism for how aphids reduce yield is poorly understood as some studies suggest aphid feeding directly impedes photosynthesis, whereas other studies suggest a change in allocation of resources from growth to defense compounds reduces yield. To determine the mechanisms underlying reduced plant growth by aphids, Nicotiana attenuata plants, native tobacco, were infested with Myzus persicae ssp. nicotianae, tobacco-adapted green peach aphids, at low and high densities, and plant performance including fitness was assessed. To test the direct defense capacity of salicylic acid (SA) on aphid performance, we fed aphids an artificial diet with varying levels of SA and measured their survivorship and fecundity. There was no detectable effect of aphid herbivory on net photosynthesis, yet herbivory reduced plant growth, final biomass (43 % at high aphid density), and seed set (18 % at high aphid density) at both low and high aphid infestation levels. High-density aphid attack during the rosette and flowering stage caused an increase in SA levels, but caused only a transient decrease in jasmonic acid concentration at low aphid density. SA concentrations similar to those found in infested flowering plants decreased aphid fecundity, suggesting that SA was an effective chemical defense response against aphids. These results suggest that as aphid densities increased the proximal cause of reduced growth and yield was not reduced photosynthesis, but instead resources may have been mobilized for defense via the SA pathway, decreasing the availability of resources for building plant biomass.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-52
Number of pages8
JournalArthropod-Plant Interactions
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2013


  • Induced defenses
  • Photosynthesis
  • Plant-Insect interactions
  • Reactive oxygen species
  • Trade-off

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Insect Science

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