Maize Domestication and Anti-Herbivore Defences: Leaf-Specific Dynamics during Early Ontogeny of Maize and Its Wild Ancestors. Academic Article uri icon


  • As a consequence of artificial selection for specific traits, crop plants underwent considerable genotypic and phenotypic changes during the process of domestication. These changes may have led to reduced resistance in the cultivated plant due to shifts in resource allocation from defensive traits to increased growth rates and yield. Modern maize (Zea mays ssp. mays) was domesticated from its ancestor Balsas teosinte (Z. mays ssp. parviglumis) approximately 9000 years ago. Although maize displays a high genetic overlap with its direct ancestor and other annual teosintes, several studies show that maize and its ancestors differ in their resistance phenotypes with teosintes being less susceptible to herbivore damage. However, the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. Here we addressed the question to what extent maize domestication has affected two crucial chemical and one physical defence traits and whether differences in their expression may explain the differences in herbivore resistance levels. The ontogenetic trajectories of 1,4-benzoxazin-3-ones, maysin and leaf toughness were monitored for different leaf types across several maize cultivars and teosinte accessions during early vegetative growth stages. We found significant quantitative and qualitative differences in 1,4-benzoxazin-3-one accumulation in an initial pairwise comparison, but we did not find consistent differences between wild and cultivated genotypes during a more thorough examination employing several cultivars/accessions. Yet, 1,4-benzoxazin-3-one levels tended to decline more rapidly with plant age in the modern maize cultivars. Foliar maysin levels and leaf toughness increased with plant age in a leaf-specific manner, but were also unaffected by domestication. Based on our findings we suggest that defence traits other than the ones that were investigated are responsible for the observed differences in herbivore resistance between teosinte and maize. Furthermore, our results indicate that single pairwise comparisons may lead to false conclusions regarding the effects of domestication on defensive and possibly other traits.

published proceedings

  • PLoS One

altmetric score

  • 2.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Maag, D., Erb, M., Bernal, J. S., Wolfender, J., Turlings, T., & Glauser, G.

citation count

  • 36

complete list of authors

  • Maag, Daniel||Erb, Matthias||Bernal, Julio S||Wolfender, Jean-Luc||Turlings, Ted CJ||Glauser, GaĆ©tan

editor list (cited editors)

  • Devarenne, T. P.

publication date

  • August 2015