Paper of the Month September 2020

Spatial scale, neighbouring plants and variation in plant volatiles interactively determine the strength of host–parasitoid relationships


Speciesā€specific responses to the environment can moderate the strength of interactions between plants, herbivores and parasitoids. However, the ways in which characteristics of plants, such as genotypic variation in herbivore induced volatiles (HIPVs) that attract parasitoids, affect trophic interactions in different contexts of plant patch size and plant neighbourhood is not well understood. We conducted a factorial field experiment with white cabbage Brassica oleracea accessions that differ in the attractiveness of their HIPVs for parasitoids, in the context of different patch sizes and presence or absence of surrounding Brassica nigra plants. Parasitism rates of experimentally introduced Pieris brassicae caterpillars and the presence of naturally occurring Pieris spp. caterpillars in the plots were assessed throughout the growing season. The abundance of Pieris caterpillars was neither affected by cabbage accession nor plot size. Later in the season, when B. nigra plants had senesced, fewer caterpillars were found on cabbage plants in plots with a B. nigra border. Parasitism rates fluctuated over the season, and were not affected by plot size. However, the B. nigra border negatively affected parasitism rates on the accession that is less attractive to the parasitoid Cotesia glomerata, but not on the more attractive accession. Our results show that plant variation in HIPVs can differentially influence herbivores and parasitoids depending on characteristics of the surrounding vegetation context. These findings underscore the importance of considering the interaction between focal plant traits and neighbourhood context to reliably predict trophic cascades.

Yavanna Aartsma, Silvia Pappagallo, Wopke van der Werf, Marcel Dicke, Felix J. J. A. Bianchi and Erik H. Poelman (2020) Oikos 129: 1429-1439

Download the full paper here