We studied within-species variation in and interrelations among morphological and chemical traits of ripe Mediterranean buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus) fruit, a bird-dispersed species. Principal component analysis revealed that larger fruits tended to be relatively rich in nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC), water and P but poor in protein and most minerals. Small fruits tended to be relatively rich in protein, structural carbohydrates, K and Zn while intermediate size fruits tended to be rich in lipids, Mg and Ca. Variation in chemical traits (organic compounds and minerals) was typically much higher than in morphological traits (e.g. fruit size) with the exception of NSC and water content, which varied little. This discrepancy might be explained by differences in environmental conditions between plant microsites that imposed greater variability on fruit nutrient composition than on fruit-morphological traits; and by lower selective pressure by birds on fruit chemical traits than on morphological traits. Secondary metabolite (emodin) concentration was positively correlated with concentrations of NSC, supporting the nutrient/toxin titration model, which predicts that high levels of secondary metabolites in fruits should be off set by high nutritional rewards for dispersers. Emodin concentration in leaves was much higher than in fruit pulp, which may indicate its differential adaptive roles in seed dispersal and against herbivores.
- Fruit nutritional content
- Fruit size
- Intraspecific variation
- Plant secondary metabolites
- Rhamnus alaternus (Mediterranean buckthom)