, Volume 136, Issue 3, pp 402–411 | Cite as

Preference and performance of a willow-feeding leaf beetle: soil nutrient and flooding effects on host quality

  • Steven S. Lower
  • Sheril Kirshenbaum
  • Colin M. OriansEmail author
Plant Animal Interactions


The distribution and abundance of herbivores on plants growing under different environmental conditions may depend upon preference and/or performance. Soil nutrients and water availability are key determinants of herbivore distribution, as both influence plant growth and tissue quality. However, the effects of water on plant quality may depend upon the availability of nutrients and vice versa. Surprisingly few studies have examined the interactions between the two. We investigated the effects of soil nutrient and water availability on (1) the growth and chemistry of the silky willow (Salix sericea Marshall), and (2) the preference and performance of the imported willow leaf beetle (Plagiodera versicolora Laichartig). We conducted two common garden experiments using a similar 2×2 fully factorial design with two levels of soil nutrients (low, high) and two levels of water availability (field capacity, flooded). In the first experiment (larval performance), larval development time and pupal weight were not influenced by nutrient or water availability to the plant. This occurred despite the fact that plants in the high nutrient treatments had higher protein concentration and lower foliar concentrations of the phenolic glycoside 2′-cinnamoylsalicortin. In the second experiment (adult preference), we caged four plants (one from each treatment) and released beetles into cages. We found that plant growth and leaf protein depended upon the interaction between nutrient and water availability. Plant growth was greatest in the high nutrient-field capacity treatment and leaf protein was greatest in the high nutrient-flooded treatment. In contrast, adults settled and oviposited preferentially on the high nutrient treatment under flooded conditions, but we found no evidence of interactions between nutrients and water on preference. Thus, at least under flooded conditions nutrients affect adult preference. We also found that foliar protein was correlated positively with adult oviposition preference and per capita egg production. Our results, then, suggest that soil nutrients can influence adult preference, and that adults choose high-quality hosts (high protein) that promote egg production.


Resource availability Nutrient × water interactions Plagiodera versicolora Herbivore preference and performance 



We are grateful to Dr. Michael Reed and Durwood Marshall for statistical advice. We thank Dr. Frances Chew for assistance with cage design. The laboratory of Dr. Adrien Finzi at Boston University provided facilities and technical support for nitrogen analyses. We thank the Tufts University Department of Biology for support and facilities. We are grateful to Lisa Tewksbury (University of Rhode Island) and the Systemic Entomology Laboratory (Baltimore, Md.) for identification of Schizonotus. This work was supported by the EPA STAR Fellowship Program, the Draupner Ring Foundation, the Howard Hughes Biomedical Institute and the National Science Foundation (deb9981568). Dr. George Ellmore, Dr. Sara Lewis, Dr. Greg English-Loeb, Dr. Margret Van Vuuren, Megan Griffiths, Benjamin Babst, Brian Brannigan and two anonymous reviewers gave valuable suggestions on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven S. Lower
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sheril Kirshenbaum
    • 1
  • Colin M. Orians
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of BiologyTufts UniversityMedfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of NematologyUniversity of California (Davis)DavisUSA

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