Tradeoffs between foliar silicon and carbon-based defences: Evidence from vegetation communities of contrasting soil types

Julia Cooke*, Michelle R. Leishman

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    97 Citations (Scopus)


    Silica is ubiquitous in plants and can constitute up to 10% of plant dry mass, varying with phylogeny and soil silicon availability. Plant silicon is an important alleviator of abiotic (salinity, heavy metal, drought) and biotic (herbivore and fungal pathogen) stress. As well as playing an important role in reducing the impact of abiotic stresses, silicon may be an alternative to carbon-based and other chemical defences. Knowledge of silicon function is predominantly derived from agricultural species and model systems. We investigated the abundance and role of plant silicon at a community level by comparing leaf silicon concentration with defence chemicals, carbon compound concentrations and invertebrate assemblages in vegetation communities from two different soil types with contrasting levels of plant available silicon. We found that the concentrations of silicon in the leaves did not reflect the silicon availability in the soil at a community level. The leaf silica concentration range in the vegetation communities was comparable to other diverse communities reported in the literature, suggesting that the species rather than the environment determine leaf silica concentration. Across sites, leaf silica concentration was significantly negatively correlated with concentrations of carbon, total phenols and weakly with tannins but not with other measured defence compounds. Leaf silica concentration was also negatively correlated with Coleoptera abundance, but not the abundance of any other invertebrate groups measured. Our results suggest that tradeoffs exist between phenolic- and tannin-based defences and provide evidence that leaf silicification may be a more effective defence against some chewing herbivore groups than others.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2052-2060
    Number of pages9
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


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