, Volume 162, Issue 3, pp 673–683 | Cite as

Developmental plasticity and reduced susceptibility to natural enemies following host plant defoliation in a specialized herbivore

  • Glen R. Hood
  • James R. Ott
Plant-Animal interactions - Original Paper


Host-specific phytophagous insects that are short lived and reliant on ephemeral plant tissues provide an excellent system in which to investigate the consequences of disruption in the timing of resource availability on consumer populations and their subsequent interactions with higher tropic levels. The specialist herbivore, Belonocnema treatae (Hymenoptera: Cynipidae) induces galls on only newly flushed leaves of live oak, Quercus fusiformis. In central Texas (USA) episodic defoliation of the host creates variation in the timing of resource availability and results in heterogeneous populations of B. treatae that initiate development at different times. We manipulated the timing of leaf flush in live oak via artificial defoliation to test the hypothesis that a 6- to 8-week delay in the availability of resources alters the timing of this gall former’s life cycle events, performance and survivorship on its host, and susceptibility to natural enemies. B. treatae exhibits plasticity in development time, as the interval from egg to emergence was significantly reduced when gallers oviposited into the delayed leaf flush. As a consequence, the phenologies of gall maturation and adult emergence remain synchronized in spite of variation in the timing of resource availability. Per capita gall production and gall-former performance are not significantly affected by the timing of resource availability. The timing of resource availability and natural enemies interact, however, to produce strong effects on survivorship: when exposed to natural enemies, B. treatae developing in galls initiated by delayed oviposition exhibited an order-of-magnitude increase in survivorship. Developmental plasticity allows this gall former to circumvent disruptions in resource availability, maintain synchrony of life cycle events, and results in reduced vulnerability to natural enemies following defoliation of the host plant.


Cynipidae Gall former Tri-trophic interactions Phenology 



We thank S. Egan, M. Eubanks, J. Fordyce, C. Nice, and E. Silverfine for reviews of this manuscript, B. Weckerly for statistical advice, and R. Porter and N. Medina for help with fieldwork. The Department of Biology and the College of Science of Texas State University–San Marcos, the Freeman Ranch Advisory Board, and a Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Grant from the American Museum of Natural History provided support to G. Hood. This study complied with the laws and regulations of the United States of America.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  2. 2.Population and Conservation Biology Program, Department of BiologyTexas State University-San MarcosSan MarcosUSA

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