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The oviposition choice of an insect herbivore is based on a complex set of stimuli and responses. In this study, we examined the effect of plant secondary chemistry (the iridoid glycosides aucubin and catalpol) and aspects of size of the plant Plantago lanceolata, on the oviposition behavior of the specialist butterfly Melitaea cinxia. Iridoid glycosides are known to deter feeding or decrease the growth rate of generalist insect herbivores, but can act as oviposition cues and feeding stimulants for specialized herbivores. In a previous observational study of M. cinxia in the field, oviposition was associated with high levels of aucubin. However, this association could have been the cause (butterfly choice) or consequence (plant induction) of oviposition. We conducted a set of dual- and multiple-choice experiments in cages and in the field. In the cages, we found a positive association between the pre-oviposition level of aucubin and the number of ovipositions. The association reflects the butterfly oviposition selection rather than plant induction that follows oviposition. Our results also suggest a threshold concentration below which females do not distinguish between levels of iridoid glycosides. In the field, the size of the plant appeared to be a more important stimulus than iridoid glycoside content, with bigger plants receiving more oviposition than smaller plants, regardless of their secondary chemistry. Our results illustrate that the rank of a cue used for oviposition may be dependent on environmental context
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Journal publication date2008

ID: 203751