Associational effects of plant ontogeny on damage by a specialist insect herbivore

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Intraspecific variation in plant traits is a major cause of variation in herbivore feeding and performance. Plant defensive traits change as a plant grows, such that ontogeny may account for a substantial portion of intraspecific trait variation. We tested how the ontogenic stage of an individual plant, of an individual in the context of its neighboring plants, and of a patch of plants with mixed or uniform stages affect plant–herbivore interactions. To do this, we conducted an experimental study of the interactions between Lepidium draba, a perennial brassicaceous weed, and Plutella xylostella, a common herbivore of L. draba. We found that L. draba foliar glucosinolates, secondary metabolites often implicated in defense, decreased in concentration with plant age. In single-stage patches, herbivores performed similarly on L. draba plants of different ages. Furthermore, we found no difference in the cumulative performance of herbivores reared on mixed- or even-staged patches of L. draba. However, in mixed-stage patches, the damage experienced by a focal plant depended on the stage of neighboring plants, suggesting a preference hierarchy of the herbivore among plant stages. In our study, the amount of herbivory depended on the ontogenic neighborhood in which the plant grew. However, from the herbivore’s perspective, variation in plant ontogenic stage was unimportant to its success in terms of feeding rate and final weight.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Associational effects of plant ontogeny on damage by a specialist insect herbivore
Series title Oecologia
DOI 10.1007/s00442-020-04702-z
Volume 193
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 10 p.
First page 593
Last page 602
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