Insect species richness affects plant responses to multi-herbivore attack

Fernández de Bobadilla, Maite; Bourne, Mitchel E.; Bloem, Janneke; Kalisvaart, Sarah N.; Gort, Gerrit; Dicke, Marcel; Poelman, Erik H.


Plants are often attacked by multiple insect herbivores. How plants deal with an increasing richness of attackers from a single or multiple feeding guilds is poorly understood. We subjected black mustard (Brassica nigra) plants to 51 treatments representing attack by an increasing species richness (one, two or four species) of either phloem feeders, leaf chewers, or a mix of both feeding guilds when keeping total density of attackers constant and studied how this affects plant resistance to subsequent attack by caterpillars of the diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella). Increased richness in phloem-feeding attackers compromised resistance to P. xylostella. By contrast, leaf chewers induced a stronger resistance to subsequent attack by caterpillars of P. xylostella while species richness did not play a significant role for chewing herbivore induced responses. Attack by a mix of herbivores from different feeding guilds resulted in plant resistance similar to resistance levels of plants that were not previously exposed to herbivory. We conclude that B. nigra plants channel their defence responses stronger towards a feeding-guild specific response when under multi-species attack by herbivores of the same feeding guild, but integrate responses when simultaneously confronted with a mix of herbivores from different feeding guilds.