Oviposition Preference for Young Plants by the Large Cabbage Butterfly

Minghui Fei, Jeffrey A. Harvey, Yi Yin, Rieta Gols (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

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The effects of temporal variation in the quality of short-lived annual plants on oviposition preference and larval performance of insect herbivores has thus far received little attention. This study examines the effects of plant age on female oviposition preference and offspring performance in the large cabbage white butterfly Pieris brassicae. Adult female butterflies lay variable clusters of eggs on the underside of short-lived annual species in the family Brassicaceae, including the short-lived annuals Brassica nigra and Sinapis arvensis, which are important food plants for P. brassicae in The Netherlands. Here, we compared oviposition preference and larval performance of P. brassicae on three age classes (young, mature, and pre-senescing) of B. nigra and S. arvensis plants. Oviposition preference of P. brassicae declined with plant age in both plant species. Whereas larvae performed similarly on all three age classes in B. nigra, preference and performance were weakly correlated in S. arvensis. Analysis of primary (sugars and amino acids) and secondary (glucosinolates) chemistry in the plant shoots revealed that differences in their quality and quantity were more pronounced with respect to tissue type (leaves vs. flowers) than among different developmental stages of both plant species. Butterflies of P. brassicae may prefer younger and smaller plants for oviposition anticipating that future plant growth and size is optimally synchronized with the final larval instar, which contributes >80% of larval growth before pupation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)617-629
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017


  • Brassicaceae
  • Butterfly oviposition choice
  • Glucosinolates
  • Insect herbivores
  • Insect performance
  • Plant development
  • Plant ontogeny
  • Primary metabolites
  • Secondary metabolites
  • national


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