Beyond pollinator attraction: Extra-floral displays deter herbivores in a Mediterranean annual plant

Yoram Gerchman, Itay Dodek, Rinat Petichov, Yoram Yerushalmi, Amit Lerner, Tamar Keasar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The evolution of several floral traits is thought to be driven by multiple selective agents, including pollinators and herbivores. Similar combinations of selection pressures may have shaped extra-floral traits. The conspicuous purple tufts of leaves ("flags"), which often terminate vertical inflorescences in the Mediterranean annual Salvia viridis, were shown to attract insect pollinators to the flowering patch. Here we test whether they also function as anti-herbivore signals. We determined the aposematic potential of S. viridis flags on three levels: concentrations of anthocyanins, suggested to function as aposematic visual signals, in leaves and flags; spectrometry to estimate whether the color-vision system of two common Mediterranean generalist herbivores (locusts and goats) can discriminate flags from leaves; and choice experiments to determine food preferences of the same herbivores. Anthocyanin concentrations in flags were >10-fold higher than in leaves. Flags exhibited peak reflectance at 450 and 700 nm wavelengths, while leaves reflected maximally at 550 nm. According to the Vorobyev-Osorio color vision model, these differences in color reflection are likely to allow visual discrimination by herbivores. Goats preferred feeding on clipped inflorescences over control inflorescences. Locusts preferred leaves over flags. To test whether this was due to deterrence from the flags' coloration, we also offered them choice between leaves and a rare, white morph, of the flags. The locusts chose both equally immediately after presentation, but leaves attracted more individuals after 5 min of feeding. The locusts also preferred green cabbage over anthocyanin-rich red cabbage. These results support the function of colorful extra-floral displays as warning signals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-512
Number of pages14
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments The study was supported by the Center for Rationality at the Hebrew University and by an internal research grant from Oranim College to TK. Lars Chittka and Nadav Shashar advised on the color analyses. Some of the locust nymphs were kindly provided by Amir Ayali, Tel Aviv University.


  • Anthocyanin
  • Flag display
  • Goat
  • Locust
  • Salvia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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