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Still armed after domestication? Impacts of domestication and agronomic selection on silicon defences in cereals

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Author(s)

  • Kimberley J. Simpson
  • Ruth Nicola Wade
  • Mark Rees
  • Colin P. Osbourne
  • Susan E Hartley

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Publication details

JournalFunctional Ecology
DateAccepted/In press - 24 Jun 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 30 Jun 2017
DatePublished (current) - 1 Nov 2017
Issue number11
Volume31
Number of pages10
Pages (from-to)2108-2117
Early online date30/06/17
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Plant phenotypes reflect trade‐offs between competing resource‐intensive physiological processes. A shift in resource allocation, away from anti‐herbivore defences and towards growth and reproduction, is predicted through plant domestication, such that crops are faster growing and higher yielding than their wild ancestors. These changes are hypothesized to have come at the cost of defence investment, leaving crops “disarmed by domestication”. Silicon is the principal anti‐herbivore defence in grasses, including many of our most important staple cereal crops, but the impact of domestication on silicon‐based defences is unknown.
We measured the effects of both domestication and modern agronomic selection on growth rate and a suite of anti‐herbivore defences, specifically leaf toughness, silicon and phenolic concentrations. Our comparison of wild, landrace and modern cultivated cereals spanned multiple cereal species, including wheat, barley and maize, sampling eight independent domestication events and five examples of modern agronomic selection.
Leaf silicon concentration showed a small, but significant, 10% reduction through domestication, but there was no effect of modern agronomic selection, and phenolic concentration was not affected by either factor. Silicon concentration correlated positively with leaf tensile strength, but negatively with foliar phenolic concentrations, suggesting a trade‐off between chemical and physical defences. Size‐standardized growth rate was independent of domestication status, and did not trade‐off with silicon or phenolic defences. However, modelling showed that relative growth rate slowed more with increasing size in plants with higher silicon levels, so that they reached a smaller final size, implying a cost of silicon‐based defence. We found the opposite pattern for phenolic‐based defence, with increasing phenolic concentrations associated with a greater plant size at maturity, and faster maximum relative growth rates.
Silicon‐based defences have been reduced in cereals through domestication, consistent with our predicted costs of these defences to growth. However, modern agronomic selection has not influenced silicon defences in cereal crops and the small decrease in silicon concentration associated with domestication is unlikely to have a major effect on the ability of cereals to withstand a range of abiotic and biotic stresses. These findings have broad implications for crop protection and our understanding of plant trade‐offs.

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© 2017 The Authors

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