Female Salix viminalis are more severely infected by Melampsora spp. but neither sex experiences associational effects

Ecol Evol. 2016 Jan 25;6(4):1154-62. doi: 10.1002/ece3.1923. eCollection 2016 Feb.


Associational effects of plant genotype or species on plant biotic interactions are common, not least for disease spread, but associational effects of plant sex on interactions have largely been ignored. Sex in dioecious plants can affect biotic interactions with herbivores and pollinators; however, its effects on plant-pathogen interactions are understudied and associational effects are unknown. In a replicated field experiment, we assessed Melampsora spp. leaf rust infection in monosexual and mixed sex plots of dioecious Salix viminalis L. to determine whether plant sex has either direct or associational effects on infection severity. We found no differences in Melampsora spp. infection severity among sexual monocultures and mixtures in our field experiment. However, female plants were overall more severely infected. In addition, we surveyed previous studies of infection in S. viminalis clones and reevaluated the studies after we assigned sex to the clones. We found that females were generally more severely infected, as in our field study. Similarly, in a survey of studies on sex-biased infection in dioecious plants, we found more female-biased infections in plant-pathogen pairs. We conclude that there was no evidence for associational plant sex effects of neighboring conspecifics for either females or males on infection severity. Instead, plant sex effects on infection act at an individual plant level. Our findings also suggest that female plants may in general be more severely affected by fungal pathogens than males.

Keywords: Dioecy; genotypic effects; neighborhood effects; plant pathogens; sex‐biases.