Does the Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae L.) Aggregate Eggs on Plants with Greater Gas Exchange Activity?


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Abstract

Few studies have investigated insect egg-laying preferences in relation to photosynthesis or transpiration of their host plants. It has been suggested that intravarietal preferences of the small white butterfly (Pieris rapae L.: Pieridae) include larger plants with characteristically higher transpiration rates. Interestingly this species, like many other Lepidoptera, may detect biogenic CO2 gradients associated with photosynthesis. We studied egg-laying preferences in working farm environments examining relationships among host choice, plant gas exchange activity, and plant size. Females discriminated between plants in monocultures on the basis of height. A balance of pre- and post–alighting preferences resulted in plants of medium size receiving eggs. Post–alighting preferences led to plants, but not alighted leaves, with higher rates of photosynthesis supporting eggs. These findings do not support a mechanistic basis for the use of gas exchange activity during host selection but, for the first time, indicate the greater physiological activity of crop plants that ultimately received the eggs of a pest insect.

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