Is the performance of a specialist herbivore affected by female choices and the adaptability of the offspring?

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Abstract

The performance of herbivorous insects is related to the locations of defenses and nutrients found in the different plant organs on which they feed. In this context, the females of herbivorous insect species select certain parts of the plant where their offspring can develop well. In addition, their offspring can adapt to plant defenses. A system where these ecological relationships can be studied occurs in the specialist herbivore, Tuta absoluta, on tomato plants. In our experiments we evaluated: (i) the performance of the herbivore T. absoluta in relation to the tomato plant parts on which their offspring had fed, (ii) the spatial distribution of the insect stages on the plant canopy and (iii) the larval resistance to starvation and their walking speed at different instar stages. We found that the T. absoluta females preferred to lay their eggs in the tomato plant parts where their offspring had greater chances of success. We verified that the T. absoluta females laid their eggs on both sides of the leaves to better exploit resources. We also observed that the older larvae (3rd and 4th instars) moved to the most nutritious parts of the plant, thus increasing their performance. The T. absoluta females and offspring (larvae) were capable of identifying plant sites where their chances of better performance were higher. Additionally, their offspring (larvae) spread across the plant to better exploit the available plant nutrients. These behavioral strategies of T. absoluta facilitate improvement in their performance after acquiring better resources, which help reduce their mortality by preventing the stimulation of plant defense compounds and the action of natural enemies.

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Da Silva Galdino, T. V., Picanço, M. C., Ferreira, D. O., Silva, G. A. R., De Souza, T. C., & Silva, G. A. (2015). Is the performance of a specialist herbivore affected by female choices and the adaptability of the offspring? PLoS ONE, 10(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0143389

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