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Data for Sagebrush: Consistent individual variation in plant communication: Do plants have personalities?


Karban, Richard; Grof-Tisza, Patrick; Couchoux, Charline (2022), Data for Sagebrush: Consistent individual variation in plant communication: Do plants have personalities?, Dryad, Dataset,


Animal biologists have recently focused on individual variation in behavioral traits and have found that individuals of many species have personalities. These are defined as consistent intraspecific differences in behaviors that are repeatable across different situations and stable over time.  When animals sense danger, some individuals will alert neighbors with alarm calls and both calling and responding vary consistently among individuals. Plants, including sagebrush, emit volatile cues when they are attacked by herbivores and neighbors perceive these cues and reduce their own damage. We experimentally transferred volatiles between pairs of sagebrush plants to evaluate whether individuals showed consistent variation in their effectiveness as emitters and as receivers of cues. We found that 64% of the variance in chewing damage to branches over the growing season was attributable to the identity of the individual receiving the cues. This variation could have been caused by inherent differences in the plants as well as by differences in the environments where they grew and their histories. We found that 5% of the variance in chewing damage was attributable to the identity of the emitter that provided the cue. This fraction of variation was statistically significant and could not be attributed to the environmental conditions of the receiver. Effective receivers were also relatively effective emitters, indicating consistency across different situations. Pairs of receivers and emitters that were effective communicators in 2018 were again relatively effective in 2019, indicating consistency over time. These results suggest that plants have repeatable individual personalities with respect to alarm calls.


We transferred volatiles from clipped emitter plants to branches of receiver plants at the start of the season. Volatiles from each emitter were transferred to 10 receiver individuals and 10 branches of each receiver were incubated for 24 hrs with volatiles from 10 emitters. At the end of the season, we estimated the proportion of leaves on receiver branches that had been attacked by chewing herbivores. This allowed us to estimate the proportion of the variance in levels of damage to each branch that were associated with the identity of the receiver plant and to the identify of the emitter individual.

We conducted a second transfer experiment the following year. We transferred volatiles between pairs of emitters and receivers that had been effective communicators and pairs that had been ineffective communicators. Again we measured chewing damage at the end of the season to evaluate whether pairs that were effective in one year were also effective the following year.

Usage Notes

The data set includes 40 receiver plants, each of which was incubated with volatiles from 10 emitters = 400 data points. For 9 of the branches, the tags were lost and the data points are missing in these cases. The first column indicates the identity of the receiver plant. The number has no significance beyond this identification. The second column indicates the chemotype of both the emitter and receiver. This designation indicates the most common volatile constituent: c is for camphor and t is for alpha-thujone. The third column indicates the identity of the emitter plant. The fourth column indicates the degree of relatedness between the emitter and receiver plants. Values range from -1 to 1 based on 8 microsatellites. The fifth column indicates the number of inflorescences produced by each branch. The sixth column indicates the percentage of leaves on each branch that had chewing damage at the end of the season. The experimental transfers were conducted over a 5 day period and the seventh column indicates the day of the transfer.


U.S. Department of Agriculture