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PLoS One. 2018 Jan 5;13(1):e0190700. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0190700. eCollection 2018.

Developmental and reproductive performance of a specialist herbivore depend on seasonality of, and light conditions experienced by, the host plant.

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Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Fort Hare, Alice, South Africa.
Department of Animal and Environmental Biology, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria.
ARC-Plant Protection Research Institute, Cedara, South Africa.
School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Scottsville, South Africa.
Centre for Biological Control, Department of Zoology and Entomology, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.


Host plant phenology (as influenced by seasonality) and light-mediated changes in the phenotypic and phytochemical properties of leaves have been hypothesised to equivocally influence insect herbivore performance. Here, we examined the effects of seasonality, through host plant phenology (late growth-season = autumn vs flowering-season = winter) and light environment (shade vs full-sun habitat) on the leaf characteristics of the invasive alien plant, Chromolaena odorata. In addition, the performance of a specialist folivore, Pareuchaetes insulata, feeding on leaves obtained from both shaded and full-sun habitats during autumn and winter, was evaluated over two generations. Foliar nitrogen and magnesium contents were generally higher in shaded plants with much higher levels during winter. Leaf water content was higher in shaded and in autumn plants. Total non-structural carbohydrate (TNC) and phosphorus contents did not differ as a function of season, but were higher in shaded foliage compared to full-sun leaves. Leaf toughness was noticeably higher on plants growing in full-sun during winter. With the exception of shaded leaves in autumn that supported the best performance [fastest development, heaviest pupal mass, and highest growth rate and Host Suitability Index (HSI) score], full-sun foliage in autumn surprisingly also supported an improved performance of the moth compared to shaded or full-sun leaves in winter. Our findings suggest that shaded and autumn foliage are nutritionally more suitable for the growth and reproduction of P. insulata. However, the heavier pupal mass, increased number of eggs and higher HSI score in individuals that fed on full-sun foliage in autumn compared to their counterparts that fed on shaded or full-sun foliage in winter suggest that full-sun foliage during autumn is also a suitable food source for larvae of the moth. In sum, our study demonstrates that seasonal and light-modulated changes in leaf characteristics can affect insect folivore performance in ways that are not linear.

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