Importance of primary metabolites in canola in mediating interactions between a specialist leaf-feeding insect and its specialist solitary endoparasitoid

28 January 2013

The role of primary plant chemistry on trophic interactions is not well studied. We examined the effect of primary plant metabolites, focusing on nitrogen, on several biological indices of second and third trophic level insects in a model tritrophic system, consisting of two strains of the crucifer, Brassica napus (canola) (SLM046 and RGS003), the specialist insect herbivore Plutella xylostella (L.) (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae), and its specialist koinobiont larval-pupal parasitoid Diadegma semiclausum (HelleĀ“n) (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae). In particular, we measured relative growth rate of the herbivore in relation to an index for plant quality (nitrogen content of leaf tissues), developmental time of the herbivore (sum of second, third, and fourth larval instars durations), and intrinsic rate of increase (rm) of the herbivore and the parasitoid. Tritrophic studies were conducted on development, survivorship curve analysis, reproductive potential, life history, parasitism, and several other fitness correlates of the parasitoid. The life table parameters of D. semiclausum were determined under laboratory conditions. The intrinsic rate of increase (rm) of the parasitoid was significantly higher on RGS003 than SLM046. In this tritrophic model, the results indicated that the bottom-up direct effect on the herbivore population growth rate was marginally as strong as the direct effect of top-down force due to the parasitoid population growth rate; but it was higher than its indirect counterpoint mediated with the parasitoid population growth rate. Consequently, D. semiclausum performed better on RGS003, which was the most inferior host to P. xylostella in comparison with another plant cultivar and had the lowest content of nitrogen in its leaves.