• Aphid performance;
  • drought stress;
  • essential amino acid flux;
  • feeding behaviour;
  • Graminae;
  • phloem composition;
  • Rhopalosiphum padi

Abstract.  1. The growth (increase in height and leaf number) of four grass species was reduced by a −0.5 MPa drought stress, but the performance of an associated herbivore, Rhopalosiphum padi (L.), was not affected consistently. The intrinsic rate of increase of R. padi was reduced by drought stress on three grass species, including Dactylis glomerata (L.), but was unaffected on Arrhenatherum elatius (L.). Therefore, there is no general relationship in the effect of plant drought on an insect herbivore, even among closely related host plant species.

2. Drought stress increased the quality of plant phloem sap, as indicated by increased sieve element osmotic pressure and essential amino acid concentrations. Thus, diet quality could not account for the reduced performance of R. padi under drought stress. The concentration of essential amino acids in the phloem of well-watered A. elatius was, however, lower than that of well-watered D. glomerata, correlating with the decreased performance of aphids on well-watered A. elatius.

3. There were no differences in aphid feeding duration between watering treatments or plant species but sap ingestion rates were reduced significantly under drought stress.

4. Using the measure of dietary amino acid concentrations and the estimate of sap ingestion, the essential amino acid flux through aphids was calculated. Compared with the flux through aphids feeding on well-watered D. glomerata, there was a reduction in aphids feeding on drought-stressed D. glomerata and drought-stressed A. elatius due to lower sap ingestion rates. The flux through aphids on well-watered A. elatius was also reduced due to low phloem essential amino acid concentrations. Thus, the performance of an aphid is correlated with the availability and accessibility of essential amino acids.