Complex effects of parasitoids on pharmacophagy and diet choice of a polyphagous caterpillar

Oecologia. 2011 Apr;165(4):995-1005. doi: 10.1007/s00442-010-1803-1. Epub 2010 Oct 13.


This study investigates complex effects of parasitoid infection on herbivore diet choice. Specifically, we examine how immunological resistance, parasitoid infection stage, and parasitoid taxonomic identity affect the pharmacophagous behavior of the polyphagous caterpillar, Grammia incorrupta (Arctiidae). Using a combination of lab and field experiments, we test the caterpillar's pharmacophagous response to pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) over the course of parasitoid infection, as well as the effect of dietary PAs on the caterpillar's immunological response. Previous work from other systems gave the prediction that dietary PAs would be detrimental to the immune response and thus less acceptable to feeding early in the infection, when encapsulation of the parasitoid is most crucial. We found that the feeding acceptability of PAs was indeed low for caterpillars with early-stage parasitoid infections; however, this was not explained by PA interference with immune function. When allowed to choose among three host plant species, individuals harboring early-stage parasitoids increased their consumption of a nutritious plant containing antioxidants. This result was driven by wasp-parasitized caterpillars, whereas fly-parasitized caterpillars increased their consumption of plants containing iridoid glycosides. Individuals in the later time phase of infection exhibited an increase in PA intake that was consistent with previously reported self-medication behavior during late-stage parasitoid infection. This study reveals the depth of complexity and the dynamic nature of herbivore host plant choice, and underscores the importance of considering multitrophic interactions when studying insect diet choice.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Food Chain
  • Food Preferences / physiology
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / drug effects
  • Pest Control, Biological*
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena / drug effects*
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena / immunology
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids / chemistry
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids / pharmacology*
  • Wasps / drug effects*
  • Wasps / immunology
  • Wasps / physiology


  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids