Spatial, temporal, and environmental limits on xanthotoxin induction in wild parsnip foliage

Arthur R. Zangerl, May R. Berenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although present constitutively in large amounts, furanocoumarins in leaves of wild parsnip, Pastinaca sativa, are inducible to even higher concentrations by mechanical and insect damage. We conducted several experiments in order to characterize the nature and extent of xanthotoxin inducibility in P. sativa foliage. In order to determine the extent to which induction is localized, we mechanically damaged a single leaflet of a compound leaf on seven plants. Xanthotoxin concentrations increased significantly only in the damaged leaflet and in the half of the terminal leaflet closest to the damaged leaflet; thus, xanthotoxin induction is localized to the immediate vicinity of damage. To determine whether xanthotoxin induction results from in situ biosynthesis or translocation from other plant parts, we detached individual leaflets from ten plants, damaged half of these detached leaflets, and compared xanthotoxin concentrations after 6 h in damaged and intact leaflets. We found that xanthotoxin concentrations increased 41% in damaged leaflets compared to detached leaflets that were not damaged. We also determined the rapidity and duration of the induction response. In leaflets that were damaged and then harvested after 0, 3, 24, 72, 120 and 168 h, xanthotoxin concentrations increased rapidly compared to undamaged leaflets on the opposite side of the leaf, reaching maximum levels within 24 h. This response was of comparatively short duration; concentrations declined to preinduction levels after seven days. To determine whether availability of resources influences the induced response, we performed two experiments, one in which soil nutrients were manipulated and one in which light level was manipulated. The low nutrient treatment was sufficiently extreme to cause cessation of aboveground growth, and the low light treatment caused etiolation. Extremes of resource limitation notwithstanding, leaflets significantly increased xanthotoxin production (2 to 3-fold increase under nutrient limitation and 3-fold increase under light limitation) in response to damage in both experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-42
Number of pages6
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1994


  • Angiospermae
  • Apiaceae
  • Pastinaca sativa
  • Umbellales
  • damage
  • defense
  • furanocoumarins
  • induction
  • light
  • nutrients
  • optimal defense
  • resource limitation
  • wild parsnip
  • xanthotoxin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Spatial, temporal, and environmental limits on xanthotoxin induction in wild parsnip foliage'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this