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Specificity of induced plant responses to specialist herbivores of the common milkweed Asclepias syriaca


  • Peter A. Van Zandt,

  • Anurag A. Agrawal

P. A. Van Zandt and A. A. Agrawal, Dept of Botany, Univ. of Toronto, 25 Willcocks St., Toronto, ON M5S 3B2, Canada. Present address for P. A. Van Zandt: Dept of Biology, 1 Brookings, Campus Box 1137, Washington Univ., St. Louis, MO 63130, USA (


Induced plant responses to herbivory appear to be universal, yet the degree to which they are specific to sets of herbivores is poorly understood. The generalist/specialist hypothesis predicts that generalist herbivores are more often negatively affected by host plant defenses, wheras specialists may be either unaffected by or attracted to these same “plant defenses”. Therefore, specialists should be less predictable than generalists in their responses to induced plant resistance traits. To better understand the variation in plant responses to herbivore attack, and the impacts these responses have on specialist herbivores, we conducted a series of experiments examining pairwise interactinos between two specialaist herbivores of the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). We damaged plants mechnically, with swamp milkweed beetles (Labidomera clivicollis), or with monarchs (Danaus plexippus), and then asessed specificity of elicitation, both by measuring a putative defensive trait (latex volume) and by challenging plants with insects of both species in bioasays. Latex production increased by 34% and 13% following beetle and monarch herbivory, respectively, but only beetles significantly elevated latex production compared to undamaged controls. While beetle growth was negatively affected by latex across all experiments, beetles were not affected by previous damage caused by conspecifies or by monarchs. In contrast, monarchs feeding on previously damaged plants were 20% smaller, and their response was the same on plants damaged mechnically or by either herbivore. Therefore, these specialist herbivores exhibit both specificity of elicitation in plant responses and specificity of effects in response to prior damage.