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The mechanisms through which trophic interactions between species are indirectly mediated by distant members in a food web have received increasing attention in the field of ecology of multitrophic interactions. Scarcely studied aspects include the effects of varying plant chemistry on herbivore immune defences against parasitoids. We investigated the effects of constitutive and herbivore-induced variation in the nutritional quality of wild and cultivated populations of cabbage (Brassica oleracea) on the ability of small cabbage white Pieris rapae (Lepidoptera, Pieridae) larvae to encapsulate eggs of the parasitoid Cotesia glomerata (Hymenoptera, Braconidae). Average encapsulation rates in caterpillars parasitised as first instars were low and did not differ among plant populations, with caterpillar weight positively correlating with the rates of encapsulation. When caterpillars were parasitised as second instar larvae, encapsulation of eggs increased. Caterpillars were larger on the cultivated Brussels sprouts plants and exhibited higher levels of encapsulation compared with caterpillars on plants of either of the wild cabbage populations. Observed differences in encapsulation rates between plant populations could not be explained exclusively by differences in host growth on the different Brassica populations. Previous herbivore damage resulted in a reduction in the larval weight of subsequent herbivores with a concomitant reduction in encapsulation responses on both Brussels sprouts and wild cabbage plants. To our knowledge this is the first study demonstrating that constitutive and herbivore-induced changes in plant chemistry act in concert, affecting the immune response of herbivores to parasitism. We argue that plant-mediated immune responses of herbivores may be important in the evaluation of fitness costs and benefits of herbivore diet on the third trophic level.
Original languageEnglish
Journal publication date2009

ID: 380248