We found biogeographical patterns in anti-herbivore defence where mean leaf triterpene concentrations and twig resin gland density were greater in resinous taxa and mean concentrations of condensing tannins were greater in non-resinous taxa. This indicates a biome-wide trade-off between triterpene- or tannin-dominated defences. However, we also found variations in chemical defence composition and resin gland density both within and among functional groups (resinous/non-resinous) and taxa, suggesting these categorisations only partly predict chemical herbivore defence. Complex tannins were the only defence compounds negatively related to in vitro digestibility, identifying this previously neglected tannin group as having a potential key role in birch anti-herbivore defence.
We conclude that circum-Arctic variation in birch anti-herbivore defence can be partly derived from biogeographical distributions of birch taxa, although our detailed mapping of plant defence provides more information on this variation and can be used for better predictions of herbivore effects on Arctic vegetation.