Responses of insect herbivores and their food plants to wind exposure and the importance of predation risk.

C Chen, A Biere, R. Gols, W. Halfwerk, K. van Oers, JA Harvey (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Wind is an important abiotic factor that influences an array of biological processes, but it is rarely considered in studies on plant–herbivore interactions.
Here, we tested whether wind exposure could directly or indirectly affect the performance of two insect herbivores, Plutella xylostella and Pieris brassicae, feeding on Brassica nigra plants.
In a greenhouse study using a factorial design, B. nigra plants were exposed to different wind regimes generated by fans before and after caterpillars were introduced on plants in an attempt to separate the effects of direct and indirect wind exposure on herbivores.
Wind exposure delayed flowering, decreased plant height and increased leaf concentrations of amino acids and glucosinolates.
Plant‐mediated effects of wind on herbivores, that is effects of exposure of plants to wind prior to herbivore feeding, were generally small. However, development time of both herbivores was extended and adult body mass of P. xylostella was reduced when they were directly exposed to wind. By contrast, wind‐exposed adult P. brassicae butterflies were significantly larger, revealing a trade‐off between development time and adult size.
Based on these results, we conducted a behavioural experiment to study preference by an avian predator, the great tit (Parus major) for last instar P. brassicae caterpillars on plants that were exposed to either control (no wind) or wind (fan‐exposed) treatments. Tits captured significantly more caterpillars on still than on wind‐exposed plants.
Our results suggest that P. brassicae caterpillars are able to perceive the abiotic environment and to trade off the costs of extended development time against the benefits of increased size depending on the perceived risk of predation mediated by wind exposure. Such adaptive phenotypic plasticity in insects has not yet been described in response to wind exposure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1046-1057
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • national

Research theme

  • Global environmental change


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