Plants display a wide range of chemical defences that may differ in effectiveness against generalist and specialist insect herbivores. Host plant-specific secondary chemicals such as glucosinolates (GS) in Brassicaceae typically reduce the performance of generalist herbivores, whereas specialists have adaptations to detoxify these compounds. The concentration of glucosinolates may also alter upon herbivory, allowing the plant to tailor its response to specifically affect the performance of the attacking herbivore. We studied the performance of three Lepidoptera species, two specialists [Pieris rapae L. (Pieridae), Plutella xylostella L. (Yponomeutidae)] and one generalist [Mamestra brassicae L. (Noctuidae)], when feeding on eight cultivars of Brassica oleracea L. and a native congener (Brassica nigra L.) and related this to the GS content. We tested the hypotheses (i) that a generalist herbivore is more affected by high GS concentrations, and (ii) that generalist feeding has a stronger effect on GS levels. Although performance of the three herbivores was different on the B. oleracea cultivars, M. brassicae and P. xylostella had a similar ranking order of performance on the eight cultivars. In most of the cultivars, the concentration of indole GS was significantly higher after feeding by P. rapae or M. brassicae than after P. xylostella feeding. As a consequence, the total concentration of GS in the cultivars showed a different ranking order for each herbivore species. The generalist M. brassicae performed equally well as the specialist P. xylostella on cultivars with high concentrations of GS. Our findings suggest that secondary metabolites other than GSs or differences in nutrient levels affect performance of the species studied.
Poelman, E. H., Galiart, R. J. F. H., Raaijmakers, C. E., van Loon, J. J. A., & Van Dam, N. M. (2008). Performance of specialist and generalist herbivores feeding on cabbage cultivars is not explained by glucosinolate profiles. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 127(3), 218-228. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1570-7458.2008.00700.x