Plants growing under reduced water availability can affect insect herbivores differently, in some instances benefitting them. However, the forces mediating these positive impacts remain mostly unclear. To identify how water availability impacts plant quality and multi-trophic interactions, we conducted manipulative field studies with two populations of the specialist herbivore Pieris rapae, and its host plant, Rorippa indica. We found that P. rapae larvae experienced higher survival on R. indica growing under low water availability compared with plants grown under high water availability. Higher survival of eggs and larvae was related to the reduced abundance of other herbivores and natural enemies. Water availability had differential impacts on other members of the herbivore community by altering plant quality. Low water availability decreased the quality of R. indica to most herbivores, as indicated by reduced abundance in the field and decreased relative growth rate in laboratory feeding assays. In contrast, P. rapae larval performance was not affected by sympatric R. indica grown under different water availability. These results indicate that local P. rapae populations possess physiological adaptations to overcome fluctuations in host quality. Our findings illustrate that reduced water availability is beneficial to a specialist herbivore but detrimental to most other herbivores. Our work highlights the complex effects of the arthropod communities associated with plants in determining the impacts of water availability on insect herbivores.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics