Plant-mediated species networks: the modulating role of herbivore density

A Pineda (Corresponding author), R. Soler, V. Pastor, Y. Li, Marcel Dicke

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


1. When herbivores of distinct feeding guilds, such as phloem feeders and leaf chewers, interact, the outcome of these interactions often shows facilitation. However, whether this facilitation turns into competition at stronger herbivory pressure remains unknown.

2. Using an integrative approach that links ecological processes (behavioural choices of insects) with physiological plant mechanisms (nutrient and phytohormone levels) for the wild crucifer Brassica nigra (L.) Koch., this study evaluates preferences of leaf chewers for plants previously infested with several densities of the specialist aphid Brevicoryne brassicae L. (Hemiptera, Aphididae). As leaf chewers, four species of caterpillars (Lepidoptera) were selected that differ in their degree of specialisation in crucifers.

3. These results show that, whereas at low and medium aphid densities caterpillars displayed a preference for aphid-infested plants or no preference, at high aphid infestation density, all four species of caterpillar preferred uninfested plants, with a significant difference for Pieris rapae and Mamestra brassicae.

4. In contrast to our expectation, the consistent preference for uninfested plants at a high aphid density could not be associated with a decrease in plant nutrition. However, while jasmonate concentrations [i.e. 12-oxo-phytodienoic acid and jasmonic acid (JA)] at medium aphid-density infestation decreased compared with low levels of infestation, at high infestation level, the jasmonates JA as well as JA conjugated with the amino acid isoleucine were present at higher levels compared with low-infestation treatments.

5. This work provides evidence that positive interactions observed in herbivore communities can be transient, leading to negative interactions mediated by changes in plant defences rather than in plant nutrition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-457
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Entomology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 06 Apr 2017


  • Cross-talk, facilitation, multiple attack, phytohormones, plant defences, plant–insect interactions
  • international


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