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Oecologia. 2003 Apr;135(2):250-7. Epub 2003 Jan 25.

Aggregative feeding of pipevine swallowtail larvae enhances hostplant suitability.

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  • 1Section of Evolution and Ecology, Center for Population Biology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Many hypotheses have been proposed to explain the adaptive significance of aggregative feeding in the Lepidoptera. One hypothesis that has received little attention is how induced plant responses may be influenced by aggregative feeding, as compared to feeding by solitary larvae. This study investigated the role of aggregative feeding of the pipevine swallowtail, Battus philenor, in California with special emphasis on the induced responses to herbivory of its hostplant. Here, I show that first-instar larvae develop faster when feeding in a large aggregation compared to solitary or small groups of larvae. Furthermore, I show that this effect is mediated by a larval-density-dependent response in the plant and is independent of prior larval experience and direct interaction among larvae. These results indicate that large groups of larvae can effectively enhance hostplant suitability. A separate experiment showed that larvae feeding on previously damaged leaves had a reduced growth rate. Thus, following initial damage a plant first goes through a period of increased suitability, followed by induced resistance against subsequent herbivory. Aggregative feeding in this system may be an adaptive strategy for larvae to manipulate hostplant suitability, adding a new dimension to the role of aggregative feeding for the Lepidoptera.

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