A shift from phenol to silica-based leaf defences during long-term soil and ecosystem development

Felix de Tombeur, Etienne Laliberté, Hans Lambers, Michel Pierre Faucon, Graham Zemunik, Benjamin L. Turner, Jean Thomas Cornelis, Grégory Mahy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
58 Downloads (Pure)


The resource availability hypothesis predicts that plants adapted to infertile soils have high levels of anti-herbivore leaf defences. This hypothesis has been mostly explored for secondary metabolites such as phenolics, whereas it remains underexplored for silica-based defences. We determined leaf concentrations of total phenols and silicon (Si) in plants growing along the 2-million-year Jurien Bay chronosequence, exhibiting an extreme gradient of soil fertility. We found that nitrogen (N) limitation on young soils led to a greater expression of phenol-based defences, whereas old, phosphorus (P)-impoverished soils favoured silica-based defences. Both defence types were negatively correlated at the community and individual species level. Our results suggest a trade-off among these two leaf defence strategies based on the strength and type of nutrient limitation, thereby opening up new perspectives for the resource availability hypothesis and plant defence research. This study also highlights the importance of silica-based defences under low P supply.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)984-995
Number of pages12
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number5
Early online date11 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


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