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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Effects of herbivory on the reproductive effort of 4 prairie perennials

Erica Spotswood1, Kate L Bradley2* and Johannes MH Knops2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences Binghamton University Binghamton, NY 13902, USA

2 School of Biological Sciences University of Nebraska 348 Manter Hall Lincoln, NE 68502, USA

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BMC Ecology 2002, 2:2  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-2-2

Published: 12 February 2002



Herbivory can affect every aspect of a plant's life. Damaged individuals may show decreased survivorship and reproductive output. Additionally, specific plant species (legumes) and tissues (flowers) are often selectively targeted by herbivores, like deer. These types of herbivory influence a plant's growth and abundance. The objective of this study was to identify the effects of leaf and meristem removal (simulated herbivory within an exclosure) on fruit and flower production in four species (Rhus glabra, Rosa arkansana, Lathyrus venosus, and Phlox pilosa) which are known targets of deer herbivory.


Lathyrus never flowered or went to seed, so we were unable to detect any treatment effects. Leaf removal did not affect flower number in the other three species. However, Phlox, Rosa, and Rhus all showed significant negative correlations between seed mass and leaf removal. Meristem removal had a more negative effect than leaf removal on flower number in Phlox and on both flower number and seed mass in Rosa.


Meristem removal caused a greater response than defoliation alone in both Phlox and Rosa, which suggests that meristem loss has a greater effect on reproduction. The combination of leaf and meristem removal as well as recruitment limitation by deer, which selectively browse for these species, is likely to be one factor contributing to their low abundance in prairies.