Genetic variation for tolerance to defoliation in <i>Cirsium arvense</i> (Californian thistle)
The pasture weed, Cirsium arvense (Californian thistle), is notorious for its ability to tolerate defoliation by herbivores, mowing, or herbicides, which is facilitated by the growth of adventitious shoots from its extensive clonal underground root system. In an outdoor potted-plant experiment, we examined the tolerance of 36 unique genotypes of C. arvense to defoliation by establishing pairs of clonal replicates that were assigned to a clipped, or unclipped treatment. Three clipping treatments were applied, and the final height, number of shoots, and biomass, were measured to compare the fitness between the clipped and unclipped clones. The majority of genotypes were negatively affected by clipping and showed a reduction in most final fitness measurements. However, some genotypes were equivalent or even greater than their unclipped counterparts indicating a large genetic range for tolerance to defoliation. The mean range in tolerance ratios (clipped/ unclipped) was 0.17 to 1.3 for shoot height, 0.26 to 1.2 for shoot density, and 0.6 to 1.2 for biomass (where a ratio of 1 indicates equivalence to the unclipped state). Since repeated defoliation is recommended for control of this weed, selection for more tolerant genotypes is possible, which may have management implications.