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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Circum-Arctic distribution of chemical anti-herbivore compounds suggests biome-wide trade-off in defence strategies in Arctic shrubs

Linden, Elin; te Beest, Mariska; Aubreu, Ilka; Moritz, Thomas; Sundqvist, Maja K.; Barrio, Isabel C.; Boike, Julia; Bryant, John P.; Brathen, Kari Anne; Buchwal, Agata; Bueno, C. Guillermo; Currier, Alain; Egelkraut, Dagmar D.; Forbes, Bruce C.; Hallinger, Martin; Heijmans, Monique; Hermanutz, Luise; Hik, David S.; Hofgaard, Annika; Holmgren, Milena; Huebner, Diane C.; Hoye, Toke T.; Jonsdottir, Ingibjorg S.; Kaarlejarvi, Elina; Kissler, Emilie; Kumpula, Timo; Limpens, Juul; Myers-Smith, Isla H.; Normand, Signe; Post, Eric; Rocha, Adrian, V; Schmidt, Niels Martin; Skarin, Anna; Soininen, Eeva M.; Sokolov, Aleksandr; Sokolova, Natalia; Speed, James D. M.; Street, Lorna; Tananaev, Nikita; Tremblay, Jean-Pierre; Urbanowicz, Christine; Watts, David A.; Zimmermann, Heike; Olofsson, Johan
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Spatial variation in plant chemical defence towards herbivores can help us understand variation in herbivore top-down control of shrubs in the Arctic and possibly also shrub responses to global warming. Less defended, non-resinous shrubs could be more influenced by herbivores than more defended, resinous shrubs. However, sparse field measurements limit our current understanding of how much of the circum-Arctic variation in defence compounds is explained by taxa or defence functional groups (resinous/non-resinous). We measured circum-Arctic chemical defence and leaf digestibility in resinous (Betula glandulosa, B. nana ssp. exilis) and non-resinous (B. nana ssp. nana, B. pumila) shrub birches to see how they vary among and within taxa and functional groups. Using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) metabolomic analyses and in vitro leaf digestibility via incubation in cattle rumen fluid, we analysed defence composition and leaf digestibility in 128 samples from 44 tundra locations. We found biogeographical patterns in anti-herbivore defence where mean leaf triterpene concentrations and twig resin gland density were greater in resinous taxa and mean concentrations of condensing tannins were greater in non-resinous taxa. This indicates a biome-wide trade-off between triterpene- or tannin-dominated defences. However, we also found variations in chemical defence composition and resin gland density both within and among functional groups (resinous/non-resinous) and taxa, suggesting these categorisations only partly predict chemical herbivore defence. Complex tannins were the only defence compounds negatively related to in vitro digestibility, identifying this previously neglected tannin group as having a potential key role in birch anti-herbivore defence. We conclude that circum-Arctic variation in birch anti-herbivore defence can be partly derived from biogeographical distributions of birch taxa, although our detailed mapping of plant defence provides more information on this variation and can be used for better predictions of herbivore effects on Arctic vegetation.


Arctic; Betula; birch; herbivory; metabolomics; plant chemical defence; shrubs; tundra

Published in

2022, volume: 2022, number: 11, article number: e06166

Authors' information

Linden, Elin
Umea University
te Beest, Mariska
Nelson Mandela University
te Beest, Mariska
Utrecht University
Abreu, Ilka
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Abreu, Ilka
University of Göttingen
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Boike, Julia
Helmholtz Association
Bryant, John P.
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Brathen, Kari Anne
UiT The Arctic University of Tromso
Buchwal, Agata
Adam Mickiewicz University
Bueno, C. Guillermo
University of Tartu
Currier, Alain
Universite de Montreal
Egelkraut, Dagmar D.
University of Bergen
Forbes, Bruce C.
University of Lapland
Hallinger, Martin
Univ Greifiwald
Heijmans, Monique
Wageningen University and Research
Hermanutz, Luise
Memorial University Newfoundland
Hik, David S.
Simon Fraser University
Hofgaard, Annika
Norwegian Institute Nature Research
Holmgren, Milena
Wageningen University and Research
Huebner, Diane C.
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Hoye, Toke T.
Aarhus University
Jonsdottir, Ingibjorg S.
University of Iceland
Kaarlejarvi, Elina
University of Helsinki
Kissler, Emilie
Memorial University Newfoundland
Kumpula, Timo
Univ Eastern Finland
Limpens, Juul
Wageningen University and Research
Limpens, Juul
Plant Ecol and Nat Conservat
Myers-Smith, Isla H.
University of Edinburgh
Normand, Signe
Aarhus University
Post, Eric
University of California Davis
Rocha, Adrian
University of Notre Dame
Schmidt, Niels Martin
Aarhus University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Nutrition and Management
Soininen, Eeva M.
UiT The Arctic University of Tromso
Sokolov, Aleksandr
Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Sokolova, Natalia
Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Speed, James D. M.
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Street, Lorna
University of Edinburgh
Tananaev, Nikita
Melnikov Permafrost Institute, Siberian Branch of the RAS
Tremblay, Jean-Pierre
Laval University
Urbanowicz, Christine
Dartmouth College
Watts, David A.
Alaska Dept Hlth and Social Serv
Zimmermann, Heike
Helmholtz Association
Olofsson, Johan
Umea University
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