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Effects of trichomes on the behavior and distribution of Platyprepia virginalis caterpillars

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Abstract

Trichomes are an important physical resistance mechanism of plants, as they reduce insect herbivore movement, feeding, and digestion. However, we know little about how trichomes influence herbivore distributions and populations. We conducted laboratory and field experiments to evaluate the preferences of Platyprepia virginalis (Boisduval) (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae) caterpillars to natural and manipulated densities of trichomes on their primary food, Lupinus arboreus Sims (Fabaceae). We then conducted field surveys to determine whether variation in trichome density among lupine bushes affected caterpillar spatial distribution on the landscape. Platyprepia virginalis caterpillars preferred lupine leaves with fewer trichomes in choice and no-choice experiments. In the field, caterpillar feeding damage was found more often on leaves with fewer trichomes. These preferences scaled up to the level of bushes in the landscape such that more caterpillars were found on bushes with lower trichome densities than on bushes with higher trichome densities. This is one of few studies to show the potential for trichome density to influence herbivore population size and distribution in a natural system at a landscape level. The results are consistent with trichomes functioning as a resistance mechanism with consequences for herbivore choice, performance, and distribution.

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