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Title: Tritrophic interactions reinforce a negative preference–performance relationship in the tobacco hornworm ( Manduca sexta )

Host plants that promote development of insect herbivores are sometimes less preferred to more toxic plants, which are co‐opted for protection from natural enemies, resulting in higher fitness in communities with strong top‐down control. However, the degree to which variation in growth rate and risk of natural enemy attack drive insect plant preferences is an open question, with little field data available across diverse plant families.

The present study investigated the preference–performance relationship and tritrophic interactions involving the hornwormManduca sexta, its natural enemies, and plants in the nightshade family (Solanaceae) using a 2‐year common garden containing 18 wild and domesticated species. The degree to which natural enemy pressure explained field patterns in the laboratory was then tested using targeted assays involving parasitism by the waspCotesia congregata.

In the field, the most preferred plants for female oviposition tended to be inversely correlated with the species providing optimal larval growth. Hawkmoths preferred plants in the subgenusPotatoe,Nicotiana, andDaturacompared withCapsicum,Physalis, and the otherSolanumsubgenera. However, larval parasitism byC. congregatawas only significant for hornworms onPotatoe/Daturaand notNicotiana(i.e. 33% vs. 12% vs. 4% parasitism onPotatoe,Datura, andNicotiana, respectively). Experimental laboratory rearing confirmed that wasp survival is lower onNicotianasp. thanSolanum lycopersicum, which could be driven by nicotine.

The data obtained in the present study show that the negative preference‐performance relationship in hornworms across solanaceous plants is maintained in part because by utilising noxious food plantsM. sextagains protection against parasitism.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Date Published:
Journal Name:
Ecological Entomology
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 783-794
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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