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Look closely at a plant in your local park, your garden or even your kitchen, and you’re likely to see some damage. Whether a caterpillar has chewed away part of a leaf or a mealybug is sucking on sap, animals are constantly feeding on plants.

Of course, herbivory, or plant predation, is not ideal for a plant’s survival. So plants have evolved many different defense mechanisms to inhibit this threat, including physical and chemical weapons. For example, cactuses arm their bodies with skin-piercing spines. Herbs such as mint, lavender and rosemary produce volatile scent compounds that can help deter herbivores.

Other plants resort to bribing personal bodyguards by secreting thick, sweet nectar.

Jacob Suissa, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, joined fern biologist Fay-Wei Li from the Boyce Thompson Institute and Cornell University ant biologist Corrie Moreau to examine the evolution of ant-bribing defense mechanisms in plants. Read more about their findings at The Conversation.

UT is a member of The Conversation, an independent source for news articles and informed analysis written by the academic community and edited by journalists for the general public. Through our partnership, we seek to provide a better understanding of the important work of our faculty.


Cindi King (865-974-0937,