Effects of soil nutrients on the sequestration of plant defence chemicals by the specialist insect herbivore, Danaus plexippus

TitleEffects of soil nutrients on the sequestration of plant defence chemicals by the specialist insect herbivore, Danaus plexippus
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsTao L, Hunter MD
JournalEcological Entomology
KeywordsSEQUESTRATION
Abstract

1. Although anthropogenic nitrogen (N) enrichment has significantly changed the growth, survival and reproduction of herbivorous insects, its effects on the defensive sequestration of secondary chemicals by insect herbivores are less well understood. Previous studies have shown that soil nutrient availability can affect sequestration directly through changing concentrations of plant defence chemicals, or indirectly through altering growth rates of herbivores. There has been less exploration of how nutrient deposition affects the consumption of secondary chemicals and subsequent sequestration efficiency. In the current study, the overall effect of soil N availability on cardenolide sequestration by the monarch caterpillar Danaus plexippus was examined. Specifically, the effects of soil nutrient availability on growth, consumption, excretion and sequestration efficiency of cardenolides by D. plexippus larvae fed on the tropical milkweed Asclepias curassavica were measured. 2. The results showed that soil N and phosphorus (P) fertilisation significantly reduced caterpillar growth rate and the sequestration efficiency of cardenolides by monarch caterpillars feeding on A. curassavica. The lowered sequestration efficiency was accompanied by higher concentrations of cardenolides in frass. Although the total cardenolide contents of caterpillars were lower under high N or P fertilisation levels, caterpillar cardenolide concentrations were constant across fertilisation treatments because of lower growth rates (and therefore lower body mass) under high fertilisation. It is concluded that anthropogenic N deposition may have multiple effects on insect herbivores, including their ability to defend themselves from predators with sequestered plant defences.