The thale cress, Arabidopsis thaliana, is considered to be an important model species in studying a suite of evolutionary processes. However, the species has been criticized on the basis of its comparatively small size at maturity (and consequent limitations in the amount of available biomass for herbivores) and on the duration and timing of its life cycle in nature. In the laboratory, we studied interactions between A. thaliana and the cabbage butterfly, Pieris rapae, in order to determine if plants are able to support the complete development of the herbivore. Plants were grown in pots from seedlings in densities of one, two, or four per pot. In each treatment, one, two, or five newly hatched larvae of P. rapae were placed on fully developed rosettes of A. thaliana. In a separate experiment, the same densities of P. rapae larvae were reared from hatching on single mature cabbage (Brassica oleracea) plants. Pupal fresh mass and survival of P. rapae declined with larval density when reared on A. thaliana but not on B. oleracea. However, irrespective of larval density and plant number, some P. rapae were always able to complete development on A. thaliana plants. A comparison of the dry mass of plants in different treatments with controls (= no larvae) revealed that A. thaliana partially compensated for plant damage when larval densities of P. rapae were low. By contrast, single cress plants with 5 larvae generally suffered extensive damage, whereas damage to B. oleracea plants was negligible. Rosettes of plants that were monitored in spring, when A. thaliana naturally grows, were not attacked by any insect herbivores, but there was often extensive damage from pulmonates (slugs and snails). Heavily damaged plants flowered less successfully than lightly damaged plants. Small numbers of generalist plant-parasitic nematodes were also recovered in roots and root soil. By contrast, plants monitored in a sewn summer plot were heavily attacked by insect herbivores, primarily flea beetles (Phyllotreta spp.). These results reveal that, in natural populations of A. thaliana, there is a strong phenological mismatch between the plant and most of its potential specialist insect herbivores (and their natural enemies). However, as the plant is clearly susceptible to attack from non-insect generalist invertebrate herbivores early in the season, these may be much more suitable for studies on direct defense strategies in A. thaliana.
Harvey, J. A., Witjes, L. M. A., Benkirane, M., Duyts, H., & Wagenaar, R. (2007). Nutritional suitability and ecological relevance of Arabidopsis thaliana and Brassica oleracea as foodplants for the cabbage butterfly, Pieris rapae. Plant Ecology, 189(1), 117-126. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-006-9204-6