Immunological cost of chemical defence and the evolution of herbivore diet breadth

Ecol Lett. 2009 Jul;12(7):612-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01309.x. Epub 2009 Apr 8.


Selective pressures from host plant chemistry and natural enemies may contribute independently to driving insect herbivores towards narrow diet breadths. We used the specialist caterpillar, Junonia coenia (Nymphalidae), which sequesters defensive compounds, iridoid glycosides, from its host plants to assess the effects of plant chemistry and sequestration on the larval immune response. A series of experiments using implanted glass beads to challenge immune function showed that larvae feeding on diets with high concentrations of iridoid glycosides are more likely to have their immune response compromised than those feeding on diets low in these compounds. These results indicate that larvae feeding on plants with high concentrations of toxins might be more poorly defended against parasitoids, while at the same time being better defended against predators, suggesting that predators and parasitoids can exert different selective pressures on the evolution of herbivore diet breadth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Butterflies / drug effects
  • Butterflies / immunology
  • Butterflies / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Immunity, Innate / drug effects*
  • Iridoids / metabolism
  • Iridoids / pharmacology
  • Larva / drug effects
  • Larva / immunology
  • Larva / physiology
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Plants / chemistry


  • Iridoids