Seasonal allocation of defense investment in Ilex opaca Aiton and constraints on a specialist leafminer

Research paper by Daniel A. Potter, Thomas W. Kimmerer

Indexed on: 01 May '86Published on: 01 May '86Published in: Oecologia


Phytomyza ilicicola (Diptera: Agromyzidae), a univoltine specialist leafminer, is one of the few insect herbivores of American holly. Adult emergence is closely synchronized with leaf flush in spring, and females make numerous feeding punctures on and oviposit in new leaves. Larvae hatch in late May and June, but their feeding period and development are prolonged so that more than 80% of the mine enlargement occurs from January until March of the following year. We propose that this unusual life cycle reflects adaptation to constraints imposed by seasonal and age-related changes in chemical and structural defenses, and in nutritional quality of holly foliage. As holly leaves age, there is a shift in allocation of defense investment away from allelochemicals, including phenolic compounds and saponins, toward leaf sclerophylly, spinose teeth, and low foliar nitrogen and water. Rapid increases in leaf toughness and decreases in nutritional quality limit availability of leaf tissues for adult feeding and oviposition to a two-to threeweek phenological window during leaf flush. Mature holly foliage is a nutritionally poor resource by nearly all criteria known to affect food quality for herbivores. This may be the main reason for the prolonged larval development of P. ilicicola. Alternatively, winter feeding and pupation in spring may be adaptations which help to ensure synchrony of adult emergence with leaf flush. Repeated puncturing by female P. ilicicola does not render leaves more suitable for larvae, nor is it a means by which females sample leaf exudate to assess leaf quality prior to oviposition. Rather, leaf puncturing occurs mostly on leaves that are relatively high in soluble nitrogen, and is apparently a means by which females obtain protein and sugars prior to and during oviposition.