Journal Article

Defence on demand: mechanisms behind optimal defence patterns

Stefan Meldau, Matthias Erb and Ian T. Baldwin

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 110, issue 8, pages 1503-1514
Published in print December 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online September 2012 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Defence on demand: mechanisms behind optimal defence patterns

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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The optimal defence hypothesis (ODH) predicts that tissues that contribute most to a plant's fitness and have the highest probability of being attacked will be the parts best defended against biotic threats, including herbivores. In general, young sink tissues and reproductive structures show stronger induced defence responses after attack from pathogens and herbivores and contain higher basal levels of specialized defensive metabolites than other plant parts. However, the underlying physiological mechanisms responsible for these developmentally regulated defence patterns remain unknown.


This review summarizes current knowledge about optimal defence patterns in above- and below-ground plant tissues, including information on basal and induced defence metabolite accumulation, defensive structures and their regulation by jasmonic acid (JA). Physiological regulations underlying developmental differences of tissues with contrasting defence patterns are highlighted, with a special focus on the role of classical plant growth hormones, including auxins, cytokinins, gibberellins and brassinosteroids, and their interactions with the JA pathway. By synthesizing recent findings about the dual roles of these growth hormones in plant development and defence responses, this review aims to provide a framework for new discoveries on the molecular basis of patterns predicted by the ODH.


Almost four decades after its formulation, we are just beginning to understand the underlying molecular mechanisms responsible for the patterns of defence allocation predicted by the ODH. A requirement for future advances will be to understand how developmental and defence processes are integrated.

Keywords: Optimal defence hypothesis; growth; development; defence; herbivores; pathogens; jasmonic acid; auxin; gibberellins; cytokinins; brassinosteroids; plant–herbivore interactions

Journal Article.  8848 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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