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Assessing plant-to-plant communication and induced resistance in sagebrush using the sagebrush specialist Trirhabda pilosa

  • Author(s): Grof-Tisza, P
  • Karban, R
  • Pan, VS
  • Blande, JD
  • et al.

Plants respond to damage by herbivores or to reliable cues of damage by changing in ways that provide greater resistance and increase their fitness. Sagebrush has been a model system for understanding induced resistance, although resistance in this system is commonly assessed by quantifying damage at the end of the season; this measure is slow and lacks accuracy and interpretability because so many other factors also affect levels of damage. Herbivore choice offers a potentially rapid and accurate alternative assay of induced resistance. Here we evaluate whether feeding behavior of a specialized Chrysomelid beetle, Trirhabda pilosa, could be used to assay induced changes in plant quality. Beetle larvae were offered the choice between two leaves in Petri dish arenas. We found that beetles avoided leaves that were naturally damaged by herbivores, experimentally clipped with scissors, and exposed to the volatiles from naturally or experimentally damaged neighboring leaves compared to control leaves. Experiments varied the source of the damage, the duration of the feeding test, and how damage was measured, still, beetles consistently preferred uninduced controls by a 2:1 ratio over leaves exposed to cues of damage. These results suggest that behavioral assays using T. pilosa larvae can be used to rapidly evaluate induced resistance in this system. More generally, movement and feeding behaviors of herbivores are an important and underappreciated component of induced plant responses.

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