Specificity in Mesograzer-Induced Defences in Seagrasses

PLoS One. 2015 Oct 27;10(10):e0141219. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141219. eCollection 2015.


Grazing-induced plant defences that reduce palatability to herbivores are widespread in terrestrial plants and seaweeds, but they have not yet been reported in seagrasses. We investigated the ability of two seagrass species to induce defences in response to direct grazing by three associated mesograzers. Specifically, we conducted feeding-assayed induction experiments to examine how mesograzer-specific grazing impact affects seagrass induction of defences within the context of the optimal defence theory. We found that the amphipod Gammarus insensibilis and the isopod Idotea chelipes exerted a low-intensity grazing on older blades of the seagrass Cymodocea nodosa, which reflects a weak grazing impact that may explain the lack of inducible defences. The isopod Synischia hectica exerted the strongest grazing impact on C. nodosa via high-intensity feeding on young blades with a higher fitness value. This isopod grazing induced defences in C. nodosa as indicated by a consistently lower consumption of blades previously grazed for 5, 12 and 16 days. The lower consumption was maintained when offered tissues with no plant structure (agar-reconstituted food), but showing a reduced size of the previous grazing effect. This indicates that structural traits act in combination with chemical traits to reduce seagrass palatability to the isopod. Increase in total phenolics but not in C:N ratio and total nitrogen of grazed C. nodosa suggests chemical defences rather than a modified nutritional quality as primarily induced chemical traits. We detected no induction of defences in Zostera noltei, which showed the ability to replace moderate losses of young biomass to mesograzers via compensatory growth. Our study provides the first experimental evidence of induction of defences against meso-herbivory that reduce further consumption in seagrasses. It also emphasizes the relevance of grazer identity in determining the level of grazing impact triggering resistance and compensatory responses of different seagrass species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alismatales / growth & development*
  • Amphipoda / physiology
  • Animals
  • Biomass
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Herbivory / physiology*
  • Isopoda / physiology
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Seaweed / physiology


  • Nitrogen

Grant support

This research was funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) through the exploratory project EXPL/MAR-EST/0818/2013. MM and AU's visit to the Ramalhete station was supported by the European Community's Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 227799-ASSEMBLE. BMC and AE were supported by FCT post-doctoral fellowships (SFRH/BPD/75307/2010 and SFRH/BPD/63703/2009, respectively). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.