Responses of insect herbivores and their food plants to wind exposure and the importance of predation risk

Cong Chen, Arjen Biere, Rieta Gols, Wouter Halfwerk, Kees van Oers, Jeffrey A. Harvey*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Wind is an important abiotic factor that influences an array of biological processes, but it is rarely considered in studies on plant-herbivore interactions. Here, we tested whether wind exposure could directly or indirectly affect the performance of two insect herbivores, Plutella xylostella and Pieris brassicae, feeding on Brassica nigra plants. In a greenhouse study using a factorial design, B. nigra plants were exposed to different wind regimes generated by fans before and after caterpillars were introduced on plants in an attempt to separate the effects of direct and indirect wind exposure on herbivores. Wind exposure delayed flowering, decreased plant height and increased leaf concentrations of amino acids and glucosinolates. Plant-mediated effects of wind on herbivores, that is effects of exposure of plants to wind prior to herbivore feeding, were generally small. However, development time of both herbivores was extended and adult body mass of P. xylostella was reduced when they were directly exposed to wind. By contrast, wind-exposed adult P. brassicae butterflies were significantly larger, revealing a trade-off between development time and adult size. Based on these results, we conducted a behavioural experiment to study preference by an avian predator, the great tit (Parus major) for last instar P. brassicae caterpillars on plants that were exposed to either control (no wind) or wind (fan-exposed) treatments. Tits captured significantly more caterpillars on still than on wind-exposed plants. Our results suggest that P. brassicae caterpillars are able to perceive the abiotic environment and to trade off the costs of extended development time against the benefits of increased size depending on the perceived risk of predation mediated by wind exposure. Such adaptive phenotypic plasticity in insects has not yet been described in response to wind exposure.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1046-1057
    Number of pages12
    JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
    Issue number4
    Early online date19 Apr 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2018


    The authors thank Gregor Disveld for assistance in the greenhouse, and the Laboratory of Entomology (WUR) for providing insects. Ciska Raaijmakers is thanked for helping with chemical analyses. Members of Terrestrial Ecology Department at Netherlands Institute of Ecology are thanked for valuable discussions. We also thank two anonymous reviews for their comments. Funding for this work was provided by China Scholarship Council (CSC) grant. The authors declare that there are no conflict of interests.

    FundersFunder number
    China Scholarship Council


      • Abiotic factors
      • Brassica nigra
      • Development
      • Parus major
      • Pieris brassicae
      • Plant-herbivore interactions
      • Plutella xylostella
      • Predator


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