Abstract 1. The use of flowering vegetation has been widely advocated as a strategy for providing parasitoids and predators with nectar and pollen. However, their herbivorous hosts and prey may exploit floral food sources as well.
2. Previous laboratory studies have shown that not all flower species are equally suitable in providing accessible nectar. Relatively little is known about actual nectar exploitation under field conditions.
3. The present study investigates nectar exploitation by the pest, Plutella xylostella, and its parasitoid, Diadegma semiclausum, under field conditions and examines whether floral nectar exploitation in the field can be predicted based on controlled laboratory studies.
4. Insects were collected from fields bordered by flowering margins containing Fagopyrum esculentum, Lobularia maritima, Anethum graveolens, Centaurea jacea or the grass Lolium perenne (control). Whole insect bodies were individually assayed by HPLC to establish their sugar profile as a measure of the level of energy reserves and the degree of food source use.
5. The average overall sugar content of P. xylostella and D. semiclausum collected in fields bordered by flowering margins was significantly higher than those of individuals collected from grass-bordered control plots. To the authors’ knowledge, this represents the first demonstration that nectar-providing plants enhance the energetic state of herbivores under field conditions.
6. In contrast to earlier laboratory studies, the present study did not find elevated sugar contents in P. xylostella and D. semiclausum individuals collected from fields bordered by buckwheat (F. esculentum).
7. The present study shows widespread sugar feeding by both the herbivore and its parasitoid. It also shows that laboratory studies establishing nectar exploitation under controlled conditions can not always be extrapolated to actual exploitation under field conditions. This emphasises the importance of studying field-collected insects with regard to food source use and nutritional status.