Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 86–94 | Cite as

Ellagitannins from the Onagraceae Decrease the Performance of Generalist and Specialist Herbivores

  • Daniel N. AnstettEmail author
  • Iris Cheval
  • Caitlyn D’Souza
  • Juha-Pekka Salminen
  • Marc T. J. Johnson


Phenolics have a role in defenses against herbivores, but the defensive functions of specific groups of phenolics are still poorly understood. For example, ellagitannins (a type of hydrolyzable tannin) are predicted to decrease insect herbivore performance, but the effect of different types of ellagitannins on generalist and specialist herbivores has rarely been assessed. Here, we test the effects of the dominant oligomeric ellagitannins of Oenothera biennis and other Onagraceae on herbivore performance. We fed artificial diets containing between 1 and 100 mg/g of polyphenol fractions comprised of varying amounts and compositions of dimeric oenothein B, the trimeric oenothein A and larger oligomers, to one generalist (Spodoptera exigua) and one specialist (Schinia florida) insect herbivore species. We compared the effects of these ellagitannin fractions on herbivore performance to the effects of artificial diet containing total phenolic extracts from O. biennis, which contained these ellagitannins as well as many additional phenolic metabolites including flavonoid glycosides and caffeic acid derivatives. Both the ellagitannin fractions and O. biennis phenolic extracts had strong negative effects on S. exigua and S. florida performance, with stronger effects on the generalist herbivore. Differences between the effects of the various ellagitannin fractions were small and depended on insect life stage. The defensive effects of these ellagitannins were large, with lethal concentrations as low as 0.1% of the diet. These results highlight the important defensive function of ellagitannins against specialist and generalist herbivores and the need to characterize the effects of these understudied phenolics.


Chemical ecology Bioassay Oenothein Phenolics Spodoptera exigua Schinia florida Tannins 



We thank X. Zhao, J. Anstett, E. Kibkalo, J. Kim and T. Lempiäinen. This project was funded by an NSERC CGS-D Vanier, and a NSERC Banting Fellowship to D. Anstett. The project was further funded by an NSERC Discovery Grant, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, and Ontario’s Early Researcher Award to M. Johnson. J.-P. Salminen was supported by grant no. 258992 from the Academy of Finland.

Supplementary material

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of Toronto MississaugaMississaugaCanada
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Biodiversity Research Centre and Department of BotanyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  4. 4.AgroSup DijonDijonFrance
  5. 5.Department of ChemistryUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland

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