Phenotypic plasticity of plant response to herbivore eggs: effects on resistance to caterpillars and plant development

F.G. Pashalidou, D. Lucas-Barbosa, J.J.A. van Loon, M. Dicke, N.E. Fatouros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


Herbivory induces direct resistance responses in plants that negatively affect subsequently colonizing herbivores. Moreover, eggs of herbivorous insects can also activate plant resistance, which in some cases prevents hatching larvae from feeding. Until now, plant-mediated effects of eggs on subsequent herbivory, and the specificity of such responses, have remained poorly understood. We studied the specificity and effects of plant resistance induced by herbivore egg deposition against lepidopteran larvae of species with different dietary breadths, feeding on a wild annual plant, the crucifer Brassica nigra. We examined whether this plant-mediated response affects the growth of caterpillars of a specialist (Pieris brassicae) that feeds on B. nigra leaves and flowers, and a generalist (Mamestra brassicae) that rarely attacks this wild crucifer. We measured growth rates of neonate larvae to the end of their second instar after the larvae had hatched on plants exposed to eggs vs. plants without eggs, under laboratory and semi-field conditions. Moreover, we studied the effects of egg deposition by the two herbivore species on plant height and flowering rate before and after larval hatching. Larvae of both herbivore species that developed on plants previously infested with eggs of the specialist butterfly P. brassicae gained less mass compared with larvae that developed on egg-free plants. Plants exposed to butterfly eggs showed accelerated plant growth and flowering compared to egg-free plants. Egg deposition by the generalist moth M. brassicae, in contrast, had no effect on subsequent performance by either herbivore species, or on plant development. Our results demonstrate that B. nigra plants respond differently to eggs of two herbivore species in terms of plant development and induced resistance to caterpillar attack. For this annual crucifer, the retardation of caterpillar growth in response to deposition of eggs by P. brassicae in combination with enhanced growth and flowering likely result in reproductive assurance, after being exposed to eggs from an herbivore whose larvae rapidly reduce the plant's reproductive potential through florivory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)702-713
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • insect herbivores
  • pieris-brassicae
  • specialist herbivores
  • arabidopsis-thaliana
  • mamestra-brassicae
  • defense responses
  • bunias orientalis
  • chemical defense
  • pinus-sylvestris
  • getting ready


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