Top-down effects from parasitoids may mediate plant defence and plant fitness

Ching Wen Tan, Michelle L. Peiffer, Jared G. Ali, Dawn S. Luthe, Gary W. Felton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Plants face many environmental stresses that can impact their survival, development and fitness. Insects are the most diverse, abundant and threatening herbivores in nature. As a consequence, plants produce direct chemical and physical defences to reduce herbivory. They also release volatiles to recruit natural enemies that indirectly protect them from herbivory. The recruitment of parasitic wasps can benefit plant fitness because they ultimately kill their insect hosts. Recently, studies showed that parasitoids can indirectly mediate plant defences by modulating herbivore oral secretions. In addition to the direct benefits of parasitoids in terms of reducing herbivore survival, we tested if the reduction in induced defences by parasitized caterpillars compared to non-parasitized caterpillars may reduce the costs associated with defence expression. We provide evidence that tomato plants treated with saliva from parasitized caterpillars have significantly higher fitness parameters including increased flower numbers (16.3%) and heavier fruit weight (13.5%), compared to plants treated with saliva from non-parasitized caterpillars. Since plants were grown without actual herbivores, the higher values for these fitness parameters were due to lower costs of induced defences and not due to reduced herbivory by parasitized caterpillars. Furthermore, the resulting seed germination time was shorter and the germination rate was higher when the maternal plants were previously exposed to parasitized herbivore treatment compared to control (non-treated) plants. Overall, application of saliva did not result in transgenerational priming of offspring defence responses. However, offspring of parents exposed to caterpillar saliva had lower constitutive levels and higher induced levels of trypsin inhibitor than offspring from unexposed parents. This study shows that the saliva of parasitized caterpillars can modulate plant defences and further demonstrates that the lower induction of plant defences is associated with elevated plant fitness in the absence of herbivore feeding, suggesting that induced plant defences are costly. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1767-1778
Number of pages12
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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