- Accumulating evidence indicates that plant resistance against above-ground herbivores can be affected by the presence of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) in association with the host plant. Little is known, however, about how AMF composition can influence herbivore choice to feed on a particular plant.
- Unravelling the preference–performance hypothesis in a multitrophic context is needed to expand our knowledge of complex multitrophic interactions in natural systems. If given mycorrhizal fungal genotypes increase attractiveness for a herbivore (reduced plant resistance), then the benefits of increased unpalatability provided by the mycorrhizal fungi (increased plant resistance) might be outweighed by the increased herbivore recruitment.
- This was addressed by designing three experiments to test the effects of different AMF genotypes, inoculated either alone or in combination, to measure intraspecific AMF effects on plant resistance and insect herbivore preference. Using strawberry (Fragaria vesca L.) plants that were colonised by eight different combinations of Rhizophagus irregularis isolates, we measured effects on plant growth, insect growth and survival, as well as feeding preferences of a generalist herbivore caterpillar (Spodoptera littoralis Boisduval).
- Overall, it was found that: (i) AMF influenced plant resistance in an AMF genotype-specific manner; (ii) some AMF inoculations decreased insect performance; (iii) insects preferentially chose to feed more on leaves originating from non-mycorrhizal plants; but also that (iv) in a whole plant bioassay, insects preferentially chose the biggest plant, regardless of their mycorrhizal status.
- Therefore, AMF-mediated trade-offs between growth and resistance against herbivores have been shown. Such trade-offs, particularly driven by plant attractiveness to herbivores, buffer the positive effects of the mycorrhizal symbiosis on enhanced plant growth.