Because many secondary metabolites in plants act as defense against herbivores it has been postulated that these compounds have evolved under selective pressure by insect herbivores. One explanation for the within-species variation in metabolite patterns in a particular species is that different populations are under selection by different herbivores. We tested this hypothesis, using Arabidopsis thaliana plants that originated from dune and inland areas. We analyzed Arabidopsis thaliana leaves using NMR spectroscopy and multivariate data analysis. Major differences in chemical composition were found in water-methanol fractions and were due to higher concentrations of sinigrin and fumaric acid in dune plants. Inland plants showed lower levels of glucose. Quantitative analysis of glucosinolates was performed with HPLC. Individual plants and populations demonstrated differences in glucosinolate composition and concentration. In growth chamber experiments, the generalist herbivore, Spodoptera exigua grew significantly better on the inland plants, while the specialist herbivore Plutella xylostella performed equally well on plants of both origins. Aliphatic glucosinolate as well as total glucosinolate concentrations negatively correlated with larval mass of Spodoptera exigua. No significant correlations, however, were found between larval mass of Plutella xylostella and glucosinolates in the leaves. A specialist and a generalist herbivore were responding differently to plant secondary chemistry, as was also found in several other studies. This is an important indication that differences in glucosinolate concentrations among populations may result from differential selection by different guilds of herbivores.
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