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Strategies of chemical anti-predator defences in leaf beetles: is sequestration of plant toxins less costly than de novo synthesis?

Abstract

The evolution of defensive traits is driven both by benefits gained from protection against enemies and by costs of defence production. We tested the hypothesis that specialisation of herbivores on toxic host plants, accompanied by the ability to acquire plant defensive compounds for herbivore defence, is favoured by the lower costs of sequestration compared to de novo synthesis of defensive compounds. We measured physiological costs of chemical defence as a reduction in larval performance in response to repeated removal of secretions (simulating predator attack) and compared these costs between five species synthesising defences de novo and three species sequestering salicylic glucosides (SGs) from their host plants. Experiments simulating low predator pressure revealed no physiological costs in terms of survival, weight and duration of development in any of study species. However, simulation of high predation caused reduction in relative growth rate in Chrysomela lapponica larvae producing autogenous defences more frequently, than in larvae sequestering SGs. Still meta-analysis of combined data showed no overall difference in costs of autogenous and sequestered defences. However, larvae synthesising their defences de novo demonstrated secretion-conserving behaviour, produced smaller amounts of secretions, replenished them at considerably lower rates and employed other types of defences (regurgitation, evasion) more frequently when compared to sequestering larvae. These latter results provide indirect evidence for biosynthetic constraints for amounts of defensive secretions produced de novo, resulting in low defence effectiveness. Lifting these constraints by sequestration may have driven some leaf beetle lineages toward sequestration of plant allelochemicals as the main defensive strategy.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to M. Pentinsaari for help in collecting beetles and to A. D. Higginson and two anonymous reviewers for inspiring comments to an earlier version of the manuscript. The study was supported by the Academy of Finland (Project 268124 and researcher exchange grants to E. Zvereva and V. Zverev).

Author contribution statement

ELZ and MVK conceived and designed the experiments, analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript. ELZ, MVK, VZ and OYK performed the experiments and provided editorial advice.

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Correspondence to Elena L. Zvereva.

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Communicated by Roland A. Brandl.

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Zvereva, E.L., Zverev, V., Kruglova, O.Y. et al. Strategies of chemical anti-predator defences in leaf beetles: is sequestration of plant toxins less costly than de novo synthesis?. Oecologia 183, 93–106 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-016-3743-x

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Keywords

  • Energetic costs
  • Fitness
  • Insects
  • Meta-analysis
  • Plant-herbivore interactions