J Plant Ecol ›› 2020, Vol. 13 ›› Issue (3): 295-303 .DOI: 10.1093/jpe/rtaa014

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Tallow tree allocates contrasting secondary chemicals in response to varying environments along elevational gradients

Li Xiao1,2,3,†, Jialiang Zhang1,2,3,†, Wei Huang1,3, Juli Carrillo4, Evan Siemann5 and Jianqing Ding6,*   

  1. 1 CAS Key Laboratory of Aquatic Botany and Watershed Ecology, Wuhan Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, Hubei 430074, China, 2 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China, 3 Core Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, Hubei 430074, China, 4 Faculty of Land and Food Systems, Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada, 5 Biosciences Department, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005, USA, 6 State Key Laboratory of Crop Stress Adaptation and Improvement, School of Life Sciences, Henan University, Kaifeng, Henan 475004, China

    *Corresponding author. E-mail: jding@henu.edu.cn
  • Received:2020-01-06 Revised:2020-03-10 Accepted:2020-04-02 Online:2020-04-03 Published:2020-06-01



Understanding how tree species regulate multiple types of secondary chemicals along elevational gradients is critical for elucidating the physiological and ecological strategies of plants in response to varying biotic and/or abiotic environments. This study aims to examine how Chinese tallow tree (Triadica sebifera) allocates resources to the production of different secondary chemicals in response to varying environments across elevational gradients.


We conducted field surveys of different herbivore feeding guilds and their damage rates on Chinese tallow trees along an elevational gradient in China and measured secondary chemicals (tannins and flavonoids) in damaged and undamaged leaves.

Important Findings

The odds of a leaf being damaged (chewing or scarring) decreased with elevation. Flavonoid concentrations increased with elevation in undamaged leaves but decreased with elevation in damaged leaves, with quercitrin contributing most strongly to this pattern, likely as results of plant responding to changing biotic or abiotic stresses along elevational gradients. Tannin concentrations did not vary with elevation, so undamaged leaves had relatively lower tannin to flavonoid ratios at high elevation than at low elevation. Our study reveals variation in herbivory and contrasting trends in plant secondary metabolism along an elevation gradient and highlights the importance of simultaneously considering multiple types of secondary chemicals in plant physiological and ecological strategies.

Key words: herbivory, climate, elevation, defence strategies, secondary metabolites, Chinese tallow tree


关键词: 植食性, 气候, 海拔, 防御策略, 次生代谢产物, 乌桕