The optimal defense hypothesis predicts that the allocation of plant defenses across plant organs is proportional to the importance of a given organ to plant fitness. Despite this, much less work has been devoted to the study of reproductive defenses in plants relative to vegetative structures like leaves. This study examines the apparancy hypothesis and the resource availability hypothesis using a phylogenetic comparative approach within the genus Cornus . During the 2016 growing season, plants of 25 species of Cornus were tracked for flower and fruit phenology as well as sampled for floral and fruit tissue in a common garden experiment at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. This tissue was used to quantify floral and fruit defensive chemistry (e.g. tannin activity, total phenolics, total flavonoids, titratable acidity), and fruit palatability traits (e.g. water, sugar, lipid, and protein content), and the color of reproductive structure using reflectance spectroscopy. Native habitat environmental data was obtained using digitized herbarium records and publicly available environmental data layers. Trait-trait and trait-environment relationships were assessed with phylogenetic generalized least squares regression. The evolution of later flowering phenology was correlated with increased floral phenolics and tannins, and the evolution of increased fruiting duration was correlated with increased fruit tannins, both supporting the apparancy hypothesis. Additionally, the evolution of higher fruit sugar content was correlated with higher fruit tannins, and a strong evolutionary trade-off between the production of tannins and the production of flavonoids was observed. With respect to habitat, floral and fruit flavonoids and tannins were consistently lower in species native to warmer environments, while fruit phenolics and was higher in drier environments, which may support the resource availability hypothesis.

Thesis Completion




Thesis Chair/Advisor

Mason, Chase


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Sciences





Access Status

Open Access

Release Date


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