Maize biochemistry in response to root herbivory was mediated by domestication, spread, and breeding. Academic Article uri icon


  • With domestication, northward spread, and breeding, maize defence against root-herbivores relied on induced defences, decreasing levels of phytohormones involved in resistance, and increasing levels of a phytohormone involved in tolerance. We addressed whether a suite of maize (Zea mays mays) phytohormones and metabolites involved in herbivore defence were mediated by three successive processes: domestication, spread to North America, and modern breeding. With those processes, and following theoretical predictions, we expected to find: a change in defence strategy from reliance on induced defences to reliance on constitutive defences; decreasing levels of phytohormones involved in herbivore resistance, and; increasing levels of a phytohormone involved in herbivore tolerance. We tested those predictions by comparing phytohormone levels in seedlings exposed to root herbivory by Diabrotica virgifera virgifera among four plant types encompassing those processes: the maize ancestor Balsas teosinte (Zea mays parviglumis), Mexican maize landraces, USA maize landraces, and USA inbred maize cultivars. With domestication, maize transitioned from reliance on induced defences in teosinte to reliance on constitutive defences in maize, as predicted. One subset of metabolites putatively involved in herbivory defence (13-oxylipins) was suppressed with domestication, as predicted, though another was enhanced (9-oxylipins), and both were variably affected by spread and breeding. A phytohormone (indole-3-acetic acid) involved in tolerance was enhanced with domestication, and with spread and breeding, as predicted. These changes are consistent with documented changes in herbivory resistance and tolerance, and occurred coincidentally with cultivation in increasingly resource-rich environments, i.e., from wild to highly enriched agricultural environments. We concluded that herbivore defence evolution in crops may be mediated by processes spanning thousands of generations, e.g., domestication and spread, as well as by processes spanning tens of generations, e.g., breeding and agricultural intensification.

published proceedings

  • Planta

altmetric score

  • 14.622

author list (cited authors)

  • Fontes-Puebla, A. A., Borrego, E. J., Kolomiets, M. V., & Bernal, J. S.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Fontes-Puebla, Ana A||Borrego, Eli J||Kolomiets, Michael V||Bernal, Julio S

publication date

  • September 2021