Responses of insect herbivores to sharing a host plant with a hemiparasite: impacts on preference and performance differ with feeding guild


Elizabeth A. John, Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Animal Sciences, University of Lincoln, Riseholme Park, Lincoln LN2 2LG, U.K. E-mail:


1. Root hemiparasites are common components of many ecosystems and can affect both the biomass and the nutritional quality of the plants they infect. The consequences of these modifications for the preference and performance of three herbivore feeding guilds sharing a host with the hemi-parasite were examined.

2. It was predicted that as the hemiparasite increased in biomass its impact on the host would increase, as would the indirect impacts on the herbivores. It was also predicted that herbivores from different feeding guilds would respond differently to the presence of the hemiparasite, reflecting the extent to which they utilise resources disrupted by the parasite and hence are in competition with it.

3. The preference and performance of phloem-feeding aphids, xylem-feeding spittle bugs, and leaf-feeding grasshoppers were measured on the host grass species, Holcus lanatus L. (Poaceae), with and without attachment from the hemi-parasite, Rhinanthus minor L. (Orobanchaceae).

4. The effects of R. minor on the host were dependent on the hemiparasite's stage of growth, being most pronounced when it was at peak biomass. At this stage it caused a significant reduction in the biomass, water content, and total nitrogen content of the host plants.

5. Overall, herbivores benefited from, or preferred, shared host plants more than uninfected plants. The aphid benefited from sharing a host with R. minor, showing increased population growth on, and preference for, parasitised plants. The spittle bug also showed a preference for parasitised plants. The grasshopper, Chorthippus brunneus Thunberg (Orthoptera: Acrididae), did not show a preference for, or a performance response to, parasitised hosts, but it consumed significantly more plant material when caged on parasitised plants.

6. These data support the prediction that invertebrate herbivores responded to changes in host plant traits driven by the hemiparasite, and strongly suggest that these indirect interactions could impact on population and community processes within natural communities.