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Disentangling the influence of water limitation and simultaneous above and belowground herbivory on plant tolerance and resistance to stress

Cite this dataset

Mundim, Fabiane; Vieira-Neto, Ernane; Alborn, Hans; Bruna, Emilio (2021). Disentangling the influence of water limitation and simultaneous above and belowground herbivory on plant tolerance and resistance to stress [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Plants face multiple biotic and abiotic stressors simultaneously. Many species can tolerate and resist stress, but countermeasures differ between roots and leaves. Since herbivores and environmental conditions modulate costs and benefits of plant defense traits, stress responses are context-dependent. We examined whole-plant tolerance and resistance responses to individual and combined effects of above and belowground herbivory under variable water conditions.

2. We manipulated water availability and access by two common herbivores (Spodoptera exigua caterpillars and Meloidogyne incognita nematodes) to Solanum lycocarpum. Plants were either watered based on historical regional averages or the 30% reduction predicted by IPCC studies. Herbivory treatments included isolated above (AG) and belowground (BG) attacks, simultaneous (AGBG) attacks, and no-herbivory controls. We then parameterized generalized linear mixed-effects models with data on plant survival, leaf and root biomass accumulation, root complexity and terpenoid concentration.

3. Foliar herbivory increased terpenoid concentrations in roots relative to no-herbivory plants under control water but decreased in both roots and leaves under drought. Similarly, root feeders increased concentrations of terpenoids in leaves under control water but decreased concentrations only in roots under drought. Plants challenged with AGBG herbivory had greater whole-plant biomass (i.e., tolerance) and lower total concentrations of defensive compounds (i.e., resistance) than plants exposed to no-herbivore controls, regardless of water conditions. Importantly, the capacity of plants to grow or produce terpenoids changes when herbivory level is considered. In plants exposed to AGBG herbivory, greater nematode infection was related to decreases in whole-plant biomass and marginal increases in total terpenoid concentration. Ultimately, accounting only for individual AG and BG responses would have led to different conclusions and underestimated the magnitude of S. lycocarpum’s compensatory responses. A “whole-plant” approach revealed that belowground herbivory is the primary driver of tolerance in plants surviving moderate water stress.

4. Synthesis. Whole-plant responses to stress in variable environments are complex, and their comprehensive understanding requires accounting for belowground herbivores and root responses. 


The experiment was conducted in a shadehouse at the city of Uberlandia, MG, Brazil. The experiment was conducted by the first author as part of her PhD thesis and therefore the data was collected, processed and analyzed by her. This data set is the raw data transcript from field and lab notes to excel file.

The data have not been processed, therefore all the analyzes process (e.g., transformation to square root) was done direct in R. 

Note that the control data for root length and architecture, as well as leaf and root dry biomass and terpenoid concentration (non-herbivory, AG herbivory and BG herbivory under control water) were originally presented in Mundim et al. (2017).

Usage notes


column name

replicate plant replicate number of each treatment
Sample name given when to the original sample at the shadehouse (same number represent the same plant)
treat.water treatment of water. D = drought; C = control
treat.herb treatment of herbivory. X= no herbivory; AG = caterpillar; BG = nematode; AGBG = both (simultaneous herbivory)
treat treatments of water and herbivory together, in order as the graph.* 
plant.part plant part the data refer to. L = leaf; R=root
roots.complex root spread (measured at the end of the study) using the method centripetal link-based ordering system root total length account at the end of the study
total.days.alive total number of days alive
dry.weight final dry weight (L or R) (in grams)
dry.weight.whole.plant final total plant dry weight (Leaf, root and stem) (in grams)
terpenoid terpenoid concentration (μmol/g dry mass) in Leaf or Root 
total.terpenoid terpenoic concentration of leaf + root (μmol/g dry mass)
herb.perct leaf damage cumulative leftover (summed percentage of caterpillar herbivory over time)
nemat.galls total number of nematode galls at the end of the study
Ngall.per.Rootdw amount of nematode infection (number of galls per dry weight (g) of roots)

*CX = control water and no-herbivory

DX = drought and no-herbivory

CAG= control water and caterpillar

DAG = drought and caterpillar

CBG = control water and nematode

DBG = drought and nematodes

CABG= control water and both herbivory 

DABG = drought and both herbivory)

NA = no data or not applicable
0 = biological zero  


Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Award: 237960/2012-5

Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Award: 202012/2012-3

Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Award: 061/2012