Family dinner: Transcriptional plasticity of five Noctuidae (Lepidoptera) feeding on three host plant species

Thijmen Breeschoten, M.E. Schranz, Erik H. Poelman, Sabrina Simon

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Polyphagous insects often show specialization in feeding on different host plants in terms of survival and growth and, therefore, can be considered minor or major pests of particular hosts. Whether polyphagous insects employ a common transcriptional response to cope with defenses from diverse host plants is under-studied. We focused on patterns of transcriptional plasticity in polyphagous moths (Noctuidae), of which many species are notorious pests, in relation to herbivore performance on different host plants. We compared the transcriptional plasticity of five polyphagous moth species feeding and developing on three different host plant species. Using a comparative phylogenetic framework, we evaluated if successful herbivory, as measured by larval performance, is determined by a shared or lineage-specific transcriptional response. The upregulated transcriptional activity, or gene expression pattern, of larvae feeding on the different host plants and artificial control diet was highly plastic and moth species-specific. Specialization, defined as high herbivore success for specific host plants, was not generally linked to a lower number of induced genes. Moths that were more distantly related and showing high herbivore success for certain host plants showed shared expression of multiple homologous genes, indicating convergence. We further observed specific transcriptional responses within phylogenetic lineages. These expression patterns for specific host plant species are likely caused by shared evolutionary histories, for example, symplesiomorphic patterns, and could therefore not be associated with herbivore success alone. Multiple gene families, with roles in plant digestion and detoxification, were widely expressed in response to host plant feeding but again showed highly moth species-specific. Consequently, high herbivore success for specific host plants is also driven by species-specific transcriptional plasticity. Thus, potential pest moths display a complex and species-specific transcriptional plasticity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sep 2022


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