Plants display extensive intraspecific variation in secondary metabolites. However, the selective forces shaping this diversity remain often unknown, especially below ground. Using Taraxacum officinale and its major native insect root herbivore Melolontha melolontha, we tested whether below-ground herbivores drive intraspecific variation in root secondary metabolites. We found that high M. melolontha infestation levels over recent decades are associated with high concentrations of major root latex secondary metabolites across 21 central European T. officinale field populations. By cultivating offspring of these populations, we show that both heritable variation and phenotypic plasticity contribute to the observed differences. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the production of the sesquiterpene lactone taraxinic acid β-d-glucopyranosyl ester (TA-G) is costly in the absence, but beneficial in the presence of M. melolontha, resulting in divergent selection of TA-G. Our results highlight the role of soil-dwelling insects for the evolution of plant defences in nature
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