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Behavioral and morphological responses of an insect herbivore to low nutrient quality are inhibited by plant chemical defenses

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Arthropod-Plant Interactions






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Animals have several strategies to contend with nutritionally poor diets, including compensatory consumption and enhanced food utilization efficiencies. Plants produce a diversity of defense compounds that affect the ability of herbivores to utilize these strategies in response to variation in food nutritional quality. Little is known, however, about effects of allelochemicals on herbivores utilizing integrated behavioral and morphological responses to reduced food quality. Our objectives were to (1) examine how variation in diet nutritional quality influences compensatory responses of a generalist insect herbivore, and (2) determine how plant defenses affect these processes. Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) larvae were administered one of nine combinations of diet having low, moderate, or high nutritional quality and 0, 2, or 4 % purified aspen (Populus tremuloides) salicinoids. We quantified larval growth, consumption, frass production, and biomass allocation to midgut tissue over a 4-day bioassay. In the absence of salicinoids, larvae compensated for reduced nutritional quality and maintained similar growth across all diets through increased consumption, altered midgut biomass allocation, and improved processing efficiencies. Dietary salicinoids reduced larval consumption, midgut biomass allocation, digestive efficiencies, and growth at all nutritional levels, but the effect size was more pronounced when larvae were fed nutritionally suboptimal diets. Our findings demonstrate that integrated behavioral and morphological compensatory responses to reduced food quality are affected by plant defenses, ultimately limiting compensatory responses and reducing larval performance.