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Silicon is an inducible and effective herbivore defence against Helicoverpa punctigera (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) in soybean

  • Scott N. Johnson (a1), Rhiannon C. Rowe (a1) and Casey R. Hall (a1)


The role of silicon (Si) in alleviating the effects of biotic and abiotic stresses, including defence against insect herbivores, in plants is widely reported. Si defence against insect herbivores is overwhelmingly studied in grasses (especially the cereals), many of which are hyper-accumulators of Si. Despite being neglected, legumes such as soybean (Glycine max) have the capacity to control Si accumulation and benefit from increased Si supply. We tested how Si supplementation via potassium, sodium or calcium silicate affected a soybean pest, the native budworm Helicoverpa punctigera Wallengren (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Herbivory reduced leaf biomass similarly in Si-supplemented (+Si) and non-supplemented (–Si) plants (c. 29 and 23%, respectively) relative to herbivore-free plants. Both Si supplementation and herbivory increased leaf Si concentrations. In relative terms, herbivores induced Si uptake by c. 19% in both +Si and –Si plants. All Si treatments reduced H. punctigera relative growth rates (RGR) to a similar extent for potassium (−41%), sodium (−49%) and calcium (−48%) silicate. Moreover, there was a strong negative correlation between Si accumulation in leaves and herbivore RGR. To our knowledge, this is only the second report of Si-based herbivore defence in soybean; the rapid increase in leaf Si following herbivory being indicative of an induced defence. Taken together with the other benefits of Si supplementation of legumes, Si could prove an effective herbivore defence in legumes as well as grasses.


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Author for correspondence: Scott N. Johnson, E-mail:


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Silicon is an inducible and effective herbivore defence against Helicoverpa punctigera (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) in soybean

  • Scott N. Johnson (a1), Rhiannon C. Rowe (a1) and Casey R. Hall (a1)


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