, 97:79 | Cite as

Folivory versus florivory—adaptiveness of flower feeding

  • Babak Bandeili
  • Caroline MüllerEmail author


The distribution of resources and defence is heterogeneous within plants. Specialist insects may prefer tissue with high concentrations of the plant’s characteristic defence compounds. Most herbivorous butterfly or sawfly larvae are considered to be folivores, so also the turnip sawfly Athalia rosae (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae), a specialist herbivore on Brassicaceae. We investigated which tissue larvae choose to feed upon and how they perform on flowers, young or old leaves of Sinapis alba. Furthermore, constitutive and inducible levels of glucosinolates and myrosinases were investigated and nutrients analysed. Larvae moved from leaves to flowers for feeding from the third larval instar on. Flowers were not actively chosen, but larvae moved upwards on the plant, regardless of how plants were orientated (upright or inverted). Flower-feeding larvae were heavier and developed faster than larvae feeding on young leaves, and adults laid more eggs. Old leaves as food source resulted in the lowest growth rates. Flowers contained three and ten times higher myrosinase activities than young and old leaves, respectively, whereas glucosinolate concentrations and nitrogen levels of flowers and young leaves were comparable. Glucosinolate concentrations of old leaves were very low. Changes in tissue chemistry caused by larval feeding were tissue specific. Defence levels did not change in flowers and old leaves after A. rosae feeding in contrast to young leaves. The high insect performance on flowers cannot be explained by differences in chemical defence. Instead, the lack of mechanical defence (trichomes) is probably responsible. Movement to the flowers and folivory is overall highly adaptive for this sawfly species.


Brassicaceae Florivory Glucosinolate Myrosinase Performance Specialist 



We thank Karin Djendouci for her help with planting and chemical analyses. This work was supported by the grant MU1829/1-1 of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chemical EcologyBielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany

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