Can plants use entomopathogens as bodyguards?


Sam L. Elliot E-mail:


For 20 years, ecologists have been gathering evidence in support of the hypothesis that plants can use insect natural enemies such as predators and parasitoids as bodyguards to protect themselves from herbivory, but entomopathogens have escaped this consideration. We extend the bodyguard hypothesis to ask whether plants can use entomopathogens as bodyguards. We first discuss the evolutionary context of such tritrophic interactions and then categorize possible mechanisms as: (1) maintaining a population of bodyguards on the plant surface, (2) increasing contact rates between insect host and pathogen and (3) increasing the susceptibility of the host. We explore these mechanisms further, examining published studies for evidence for the hypothesis. We then discuss potential costs to the plant of promoting pathogens as bodyguards which may include a reduction in the efficiency of other “bodyguard” species, the incidental promotion of plant pathogens and the risk of entomopathogens developing phytopathogenicity. Aside from our intention to stimulate the testing of the bodyguard hypothesis with entompathogens and to provide a conceptual framework for this, we hope to bring evolutionary ecology and insect pathology closer together.