A plant pathogen reduces the enemy-free space of an insect herbivore on a shared host plant

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An important mechanism in stabilizing tightly linked host-parasitoid and prey-predator interactions is the presence of refuges that protect organisms from their natural enemies. However, the presence and quality of refuges can be strongly affected by the environment. We show that infection of the host plant Silene latifolia by its specialist fungal plant pathogen Microbotryum violaceum dramatically alters the enemy-free space of a herbivore, the specialist noctuid seed predator Hadena bicruris, on their shared host plant. The pathogen arrests the development of seed capsules that serve as refuges for the herbivore's offspring against the specialist parasitoid Microplitis tristis, a major source of mortality of H. bicruris in the field. Pathogen infection resulted both in lower host-plant food quality, causing reduced adult emergence, and in twofold higher rates of parasitism of the herbivore. We interpret the strong oviposition preference of H. bicruris for uninfected plants in the field as an adaptive response, positioning offspring on refuge-rich, high-quality hosts. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that plant-inhabiting micro-organisms can affect higher trophic interactions through alteration of host refuge quality. We speculate that such interference can potentially destabilize tightly linked multitrophic interactions.




Biere, A., Elzinga, J. A., Honders, S. C., & Harvey, J. A. (2002). A plant pathogen reduces the enemy-free space of an insect herbivore on a shared host plant. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 269(1506), 2197–2204. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2002.2147

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