Ecological fits, mis-fits and lotteries involving insect herbivores on the invasive plant, Bunias orientalis
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Exotic plants bring with them traits that evolved elsewhere into their new ranges. These traits may make them unattractive or even toxic to native herbivores, or vice versa. Here, interactions between two species of specialist (Pieris rapae and P. brassicae) and two species of generalist (Spodoptera exigua and Mamestra brassicae) insect herbivores were examined on two native crucifer species in the Netherlands, Brassica nigra and Sinapis arvensis, and an exotic, Bunias orientalis. Bu. orientalis originates in eastern Europe and western Asia but is now an invasive pest in many countries in central Europe. P. rapae, P. brassicae and S. exigua performed very poorly on Bu. orientalis, with close to 100% of larvae failing to pupate, whereas survival was much higher on the native plants. In choice experiments, the pierid butterflies preferred to oviposit on the native plants. Alternatively, M. brassicae developed very poorly on the native plants but thrived on Bu. orientalis. Further assays with a German Bu. orientalis population also showed that several specialist and generalist herbivores performed very poorly on this plant, with the exception of Spodoptera littoralis and M. brassicae. Bu. orientalis produced higher levels of secondary plant compounds (glucosinolates) than B. nigra but not S. arvensis but these do not appear to be important factors for herbivore development. Our results suggest that Bu. orientalis is a potential demographic ‘trap’ for some herbivores, such as pierid butterflies. However, through the effects of an evolutionary ‘lottery’, M. brassicae has found its way through the plant’s chemical ‘minefield’.