To investigate the potential for and constraints on the evolution of compensatory ability, we performed a greenhouse experiment using Asclepias syriaca in which foliar damage and soil nutrient concentration were manipulated. Under low nutrient conditions, significant genetic variation was detected for allocation patterns and for compensatory ability. Furthermore, resource allocation to storage was positively, genetically correlated both with compensatory ability and biomass when damaged, the last two being positively, genetically correlated with each other. Thus, in the low nutrient environment, compensatory ability via resource allocation to storage provided greater biomass when damaged. A negative genetic correlation between compensatory ability and plant biomass when undamaged suggests that this mechanism entailed an allocation cost, which would constrain the evolution of greater compensatory ability when nutrients are limited. Under high nutrient conditions, neither compensatory ability nor allocation patterns predicted biomass when damaged, even though genetic variation in compensatory ability existed. Instead, plant biomass when undamaged predicted biomass when damaged. The differences in outcomes between the two nutrient treatments highlight the importance of considering the possible range of environmental conditions that a genotype may experience. Furthermore, traits that conferred compensatory ability did not necessarily contribute to biomass when damaged, demonstrating that it is critical to examine both compensatory ability and biomass when damaged to determine whether selection by herbivores can favor the evolution of increased compensation.
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