To better understand the response of Ipomoea cairica (Cairo morningglory) to herbivory, the compensatory growth and photosynthetic characteristics of plants were measured after simulated herbivory by leaf trimming at four intensities: 25, 50, 75, and 100% removal, starting from the apex. Defoliation at 25% had no significant influence on plant biomass, but the total biomass (−19 to −66%) and root biomass (−31 to −75%) of the plants decreased significantly when defoliation intensity was ≥ 50% (P < 0.05). Photosynthetic rates (Pn) increased with defoliation intensity (P < 0.01), and Pn values in the defoliated plants were 10 to 72% greater than those in the control plants, a relationship that could be attributed to a decrease in stomatal limitation (−11 to −34%) and the increase in rubisco content (9 to 18%) as well as higher photosynthetic efficiency and less light energy dissipated as heat. At defoliation intensities up to 50%, plants needed more energy to compensate photosynthetically, which could influence the plant photosynthetic characteristics as well as the allocation of assimilates, resulting in less root development. Since the spread of I. cairica depends primarily on clonal growth, smaller roots could limit uptake of nutrients from the soil. These direct and indirect effects indicate that leaf-feeding herbivores may have potential for biological control of I. cairica but to have any effect the herbivores would need to consume ≥ 50% of the leaf biomass.
Nomenclature: Cairo morningglory, Ipomoea cairica (L.) Sweet.
Management Implications: Studies of the population ecology of a weed are valuable prior to implementation of biological control programs. This study suggested that agents that can consume 50% or more of the leaf biomass should be given priority for I. cairica control. It will help to find out a suitable density of insect population in the future. When we use the beetle Cassida circumdata to control I. cairica, herbivore feeding would need to consume at least 50% of the leaf.