Evolutionary Ecology of Plant-Herbivore Interactions


Group introduction


Eco-evolutionary processes affecting plant–herbivore interactions. Predict how the future global change will influence plant-herbivore interactions. Management strategies of agroforestry systems.


Our group is broadly interested in the evolutionary ecology and mechanisms governing reciprocal interactions between plants, other organisms (e.g., insect herbivores and their natural enemies) and the environment. In particular, the main goals of our research are to investigate:

  1. Latitudinal and elevational gradients plant-herbivore interactions. A long-standing paradigm in ecology holds that the strength of biotic interactions becomes increasingly strong towards the tropics and sea level, thus increasing anti-herbivore defences at lower latitudes and elevations. The mechanisms driving elevational and latitudinal variation in plant-herbivore interactions have been intensely debated and a general consensus has not been reached. A series of explanations have recently been put forward to account for these conflicting patterns, ranging from contrasting spatial and taxonomical scales of analyses across studies and insufficient quantification of different types of defensive traits and strategies, to a lack of consideration of plant and life-histories and methodological inconsistencies.
  2. Plant-plant communication in response to herbivory as a tool for integrated pest management. Over three decades of work on airborne plant communication has demonstrated that plants send, receive, and respond to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by conspecific as well as heterospecific neighbouring plants. Most of this work has centred on the consequences of plant-plant communication on resistance against herbivory, with studies showing that VOCs emitted by herbivore-damaged plants (emitter plants) increase resistance of neighbouring undamaged plants (receiver plants). Responses by receiver plants in many cases involve priming or preparation of defensive responses (rather than full induction) which leads to enhanced defence induction upon subsequent insect attack. This phenomenon of plant communication is thought to be widespread and an increasing number of studies have proposed the use of plant VOC-mediated signalling as an alternative for sustainable plant protection against pests and diseases. However, a key aspect receiving considerably less attention concerns the ecological specificity and context-dependency of plant communication. In particular, the specificity of plant communication with respect to the players involved (i.e., plants and associated insects) and its contingency upon biotic (herbivores, pathogens) and abiotic (e.g., drought, fertilization, light) factors under natural settings are of equal importance but have been poorly investigated.
  3. Bottom-up and top-down effects of host-plant diversity as key drivers of arthropod community structure. Theory predicts that host-plant intra- and inter-specific diversity mediates many ecosystem processes and determines the structure of the associated community of consumers. Recent studies that have focused more mechanistically on how plant-neighbour interactions affect associated communities showed that the bottom-up effects of plant diversity cascade up to higher trophic levels, including the third trophic level (predators and parasitoids)

Group staff

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Grupo de Ecología Evolutiva de las Interacciones Planta-Herbívoro

NombrePuestoTeléfonoExt. cortaExt. largaemail
Xoaquín Moreira Tomé Investigador contratado RyC - Jefe de grupo +34 986854800 226 862226 se.cisc.gbm@arieromx
Delfina Beatriz Lago Núñez Técnica Superior Actividades Técnicas y Profesionales +34 986854800 373 862373 se.cisc.gbm@ogalb
Lucía Martín Cacheda Titulada Superior Actividades Técnicas y Profesionales +34 986854800 221 862221 se.cisc.gbm@nitraml