, Volume 160, Issue 1, pp 63–76 | Cite as

Glucosinolate polymorphism in wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea) influences the structure of herbivore communities

  • Erika L. Newton
  • James M. Bullock
  • Dave J. Hodgson
Plant-Animal Interactions - Original Paper


Natural plant populations often show substantial heritable variation in chemical structure of secondary metabolites. Despite a great deal of evidence from laboratory studies that these chemicals influence herbivore behaviour and life history, there exists little evidence for the structuring of natural herbivore communities according to plant chemical profiles. Brassica oleracea (Brassicaceae) produces aliphatic glucosinolates, which break down into toxins when leaf tissue is damaged. Structural diversity in these glucosinolates is heritable, and varies considerably at two ecological scales in the UK: both within and between populations. We surveyed herbivore attack on plants producing different glucosinolates, using 12 natural B. oleracea populations. In contrast to the results of previous studies in this system, which suffered low statistical power, we found significant differential responses of herbivore species to heritable glucosinolates, both within and between plant populations. We found significant correlations between herbivore infestation rates and the presence or absence of two heritable glucosinolates: sinigrin and progoitrin. There was variation between herbivore species in the direction of response, the ecological scale at which responses were identified, and the correlations for some herbivore species changed at different times of the year. We conclude that variation in plant secondary metabolites can structure the community of herbivores that attack them, and propose that herbivore-mediated differential selection deserves further investigation as a mechanism maintaining the observed diversity of glucosinolates in wild Brassica.


Aliphatic glucosinolate Brassica oleracea Ecological scale Herbivory Plant–insect interaction 



The authors thank J. Blount, A. Barlow and N. van Dam for providing advice on HLPC and techniques for purifying desulphoglucosinolates, Matthias Wichmann for advice about the Dorset sites and Isobel Giblin for fieldwork assistance at the Devon sites. P. Behrens, T. Jones and Torbay Coast and Country Side Trust allowed access to field sites. Funding for this project was provided by the European Social Fund. All experiments comply with current UK laws.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erika L. Newton
    • 1
  • James M. Bullock
    • 2
  • Dave J. Hodgson
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Ecology and Conservation, School of BiosciencesUniversity of ExeterCornwallUK
  2. 2.Centre for Ecology and HydrologyOxonUK

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