Whole-Plant Metabolic Allocation Under Water Stress
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Trade-offs between plant growth and defense depend on environmental resource availability. Plants are predicted to prioritize growth when environmental resources are abundant and defense when environmental resources are scarce. Nevertheless, such predictions lack a whole-plant perspective-they do not account for potential differences in plant allocation above- and belowground. Such accounting is important because leaves and roots, though both critical to plant survival and fitness, differ in their resource-uptake roles and, often, in their vulnerability to herbivores. Here we aimed to determine how water availability affects plant allocation to multiple metabolic components of growth and defense in both leaves and roots. To do this, we conducted a meta-analysis of data from experimental studies in the literature. We assessed plant metabolic responses to experimentally reduced water availability, including changes in growth, nutrients, physical defenses, primary metabolites, hormones, and other secondary metabolites. Both above- and belowground, reduced water availability reduced plant biomass but increased the concentrations of primary metabolites and hormones. Importantly, however, reduced water had opposite effects in different organs on the concentrations of other secondary metabolites: reduced water increased carbon-based secondary metabolites in leaves but reduced them in roots. In addition, plants suffering from co-occurring drought and herbivory stresses exhibited dampened metabolic responses, suggesting a metabolic cost of multiple stresses. Our study highlights the needs for additional empirical studies of whole-plant metabolic responses under multiple stresses and for refinement of existing plant growth-defense theory in the context of whole plants.
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