Abstract 1. Herbivory can induce resistance in a plant and the induced phenotype may be disfavoured by subsequent herbivores. Yet, as the distance between plants in a population increases, limited mobility may make a herbivore more likely to feed and oviposit on host plants in its immediate surroundings.
2. The present study tested whether a herbivore’s preference and distribution across plants with different induced phenotypes was influenced by the spatial distribution of plants. A fragmented population of Solanum dulcamara plants was created. This consisted of discrete, spatially separated patches with different histories of damage, either herbivory from adult flea beetles (Psylliodes affinis), tortoise beetles (Plagiometriona clavata), or mechanical damage. Each patch was separated by 7 m and consisted of 12 plants that were spaced 30 cm apart. Then a fixed number of adult tortoise beetles were introduced to each patch, and movement and oviposition within and between spatially separate homogeneous patches (receiving one type of damage) were compared with movement and oviposition within heterogeneous patches (containing all three types of damage) over the growing season.
3. Flea beetle and tortoise beetle herbivory consistently induced different phytochemical responses in S. dulcamara (polyphenol oxidase and peroxidase), and adult tortoise beetles avoided oviposition on the flea beetle induced plants within heterogeneous patches. However, between homogeneous patches, plant phenotype did not influence oviposition. Colonisation by naturally occurring flea beetle adults followed a similar pattern.
4. These results suggest that the heterogeneity of plant phenotypes can influence herbivore choice and distribution at small but not large spatial scales.