Differences in effects of pyrrolizidine alkaloids on five generalist insect herbivore species

M. Macel, M. Bruinsma, S.M. Dijkstra, T. Ooijendijk, T. Niemeyer, P.G.L. Klinkhamer

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The evolution of the diversity in plant secondary compounds is often thought to be driven by insect herbivores, although there is little empirical evidence for this assumption. To investigate whether generalist insect herbivores could play a role in the evolution of the diversity of related compounds, we examined if (1) related compounds differ in their effects on generalists, (2) there is a synergistic effect among compounds, and (3) effects of related compounds differed among insect species. The effects of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) were tested on five generalist insect herbivore species of several genera using artificial diets or neutral substrates to which PAs were added. We found evidence that structurally related PAs differed in their effects to the thrips Frankliniella occidentalis, the aphid Myzus persicae, and the locust Locusta migratoria. The individual PAs had no effect on Spodoptera exigua and Mamestra brassicae caterpillars. For S. exigua, we found indications for synergistic deterrent effects of PAs in PA mixtures. The relative effects of PAs differed between insect species. The PA senkirkine had the strongest effect on the thrips, but had no effect at all on the aphids. Our results show that generalist herbivores could potentially play a role in the evolution and maintenance of the diversity of PAs
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1493-1508
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • senecio-jacobaea
  • plant defense
  • secondary metabolites
  • chemical ecology
  • natural enemies
  • tyria-jacobaeae
  • host use
  • specialist
  • diversity
  • selection


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