Effects of population-related variation in plant primary and secondary metabolites on aboveground and belowground multitrophic interactions

Moniek van Geem, Rieta Gols*, Ciska E. Raaijmakers, Jeffrey A. Harvey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Insects feeding on aboveground and belowground tissues can influence each other through their shared plant and this is often mediated by changes in plant chemistry. We examined the effects of belowground root fly (Delia radicum) herbivory on the performance of an aboveground herbivore (Plutella xylostella) and its endoparasitoid wasp (Cotesia vestalis). Insects were reared on three populations of wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea) plants, exhibiting qualitative and quantitative differences in root and shoot defense chemistry, that had or had not been exposed to root herbivory. In addition, we measured primary (amino acids and sugars) and secondary [glucosinolate (GS)] chemistry in plants exposed to the various plant population-treatment combinations to determine to what extent plant chemistry could explain variation in insect performance variables using multivariate statistics. In general, insect performance was more strongly affected by plant population than by herbivory in the opposite compartment, suggesting that population-related differences in plant quality are larger than those induced by herbivory. Sugar profiles were similar in the three populations and concentrations only changed in damaged tissues. In addition to population-related differences, amino acid concentrations primarily changed locally in response to herbivory. Whether GS concentrations changed in response to herbivory (indole GS) or whether there were only population-related differences (aliphatic GS) depended on GS class. Poor correlations between performance and chemical attributes made biological interpretation of these results difficult. Moreover, trade-offs between life history traits suggest that factors other than food nutritional quality contribute to the expression of life history traits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-233
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Aboveground–belowground interactions
  • Amino acids
  • Brassica oleracea
  • Cotesia vestalis
  • Glucosinolates
  • Plant chemistry
  • Plutella xylostella
  • Primary and secondary metabolites
  • Sugars
  • 016-3978


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