1. Plant responses to herbivore attack may have community-wide effects on the composition of the plant-associated insect community. Thereby, plant responses to an early-season herbivore may have profound consequences for the amount and type of future attack.
2. Here we studied the effect of early-season herbivory by caterpillars of Pieris rapae on the composition of the insect herbivore community on domesticated Brassica oleracea plants. We compared the effect of herbivory on two cultivars that differ in the degree of susceptibility to herbivores to analyse whether induced plant responses supersede differences caused by constitutive resistance.
3. Early-season herbivory affected the herbivore community, having contrasting effects on different herbivore species, while these effects were similar on the two cultivars. Generalist insect herbivores avoided plants that had been induced, whereas these plants were colonised preferentially by specialist herbivores belonging to both leaf-chewing and sap-sucking guilds.
4. Our results show that community-wide effects of early-season herbivory may prevail over effects of constitutive plant resistance. Induced responses triggered by prior herbivory may lead to an increase in susceptibility to the dominant specialists in the herbivorous insect community. The outcome of the balance between contrasting responses of herbivorous community members to induced plants therefore determines whether induced plant responses result in enhanced plant resistance.