Early herbivore alert matters: plant-mediated effects of egg deposition on higher trophic levels benefit plant fitness

Pashalidou, F.G.; Frago, E.; Griese, E.; Poelman, E.H.; Loon, J.J.A. van; Dicke, M.; Fatouros, N.E.


Induction of plant defences, specifically in response to herbivore attack, can save costs that would otherwise be needed to maintain defences even in the absence of herbivores. However, plants may suffer considerable damage during the time required to mount these defences against an attacker. This could be resolved if plants could respond to early cues, such as egg deposition, that reliably indicate future herbivory. We tested this hypothesis in a field experiment and found that egg deposition by the butterfly Pieris brassicae on black mustard (Brassica nigra) induced a plant response that negatively affected feeding caterpillars. The effect cascaded up to the third and fourth trophic levels (larval parasitoids and hyperparasitoids) by affecting the parasitisation rate and parasitoid performance. Overall, the defences induced by egg deposition had a positive effect on plant seed production and may therefore play an important role in the evolution of plant resistance to herbivores.