Genus-wide variation in foliar polyphenolics in eucalypts

Karen J. Marsh*, Carsten Kulheim, Simon P. Blomberg, Andrew H. Thornhill, Joseph T. Miller, Ian R. Wallis, Dean Nicolle, Juha Pekka Salminen, William J. Foley

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    25 Citations (Scopus)


    Many studies quantify total phenolics or total tannins, but understanding the ecological role of polyphenolic secondary metabolites requires at least an understanding of the diversity of phenolic groups present. We used UPLC-MS/MS to measure concentrations of different polyphenol groups - including the four most common tannin groups, the three most common flavonoid groups, and quinic acid derivatives - in foliage from 628 eucalypts from the genera Eucalyptus, Angophora and Corymbia. We also tested for phylogenetic signal in each of the phenolic groups. Many eucalypts contained high concentrations of polyphenols, particularly ellagitannins, which have been relatively poorly studied, but may possess strong oxidative activity. Because the biosynthetic pathways of many phenolic compounds share either precursors or enzymes, we found negative correlations between the concentrations of several of the constituents that we measured, including proanthocyanidins (PAs) and hydrolysable tannins (HTs), HTs and flavonol derivatives, and HTs and quinic acid derivatives. We observed moderate phylogenetic signal in all polyphenol constituents, apart from the concentration of the prodelphinidin subunit of PAs and the mean degree of polymerisation of PAs. These two traits, which have previously been shown to be important in determining plants' protein precipitation capacity, may have evolved under selection, perhaps in response to climate or herbivore pressure. Hence, the signature of evolutionary history appears to have been erased for these traits. This study is an important step in moving away from analysing “totals” to a better understanding of how phylogenetic effects influence phenolic composition, and how this in turn influences ecological processes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)197-207
    Number of pages11
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


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