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Importance of Silene latifolia ssp. alba and S. dioica (Caryophyllaceae) as host plants of the parasitic pollinator Hadena bicruris (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae)


  • Sigrun Bopp,

  • Gerhard Gottsberger

S. Bopp and G. Gottsberger, Abteilung Systematische Botanik und Ökologie, Univ. Ulm, Albert-Einstein-Allee 11, DE-89081 Ulm, Germany (


With regards to pollination there exist several mutualistic relationships between Hadena-species and Caryophyllaceae. As mutualists have both negative and positive effects on their partners, mutualism is often betoken as reciprocative exploitation which may shift to parasitism if the exploitation of one partner becomes prevalent.

Several Silene- and Saponaria-species are considered to be larval host plants of Hadena bicruris. Although Silene latifolia ssp. alba and S. dioica are frequently cited as hosts of the seed eating larvae, field and laboratory observations at Ulm were suggestive for only S. latifolia ssp. alba being a suitable host. Records of the oviposition behavior of H. bicruris made it evident that in fact a considerable number of eggs could be found in planted stands of both species. On the other hand, phenological data of the flowering periods and of the oviposition behavior of H. bicruris showed that S. latifolia ssp. alba is clearly preferred for oviposition if host selection is possible due to contemporaneous flowering of individuals of both plant species growing at close range. In addition, the flowering periods of S. latifolia ssp. alba and the periods of moth activity overlap to a large extent. This is not the case in S. dioica. Feeding experiences first indicated that the caterpillars may not prefer one of the species to the other, but comparison of the pupal weight of the animals reared on fruits of exclusively one of the species showed that the seeds of S. latifolia ssp. alba were more profitable for nutrition than those of S. dioica; the pupal weight of animals reared on seeds of the former species significantly exceeded that of animals reared on seeds of the latter one. The question arises if the symbiosis of H. bicruris and its hosts constitutes a stable situation or if an evolutionary shift to mutualism or parasitism will take place.

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