Godinho, D.P., Janssen, A., Li, D., Cruz, C. & Magalhães, S. (2020) The distribution of herbivores between leaves matches their performance only in the absence of competitors.Ecology and Evolution, 10(15), 8405-8415. DOI:10.1002/ece3.6547 (IF2020 2,912; Q2 Ecology)
Few studies have tested how plant quality and the presence of competitors interact in determining how herbivores choose between different leaves within a plant. We investigated this in two herbivorous spider mites sharing tomato plants: Tetranychus urticae, which generally induces plant defenses, and Tetranychus evansi, which suppresses them, creating asymmetrical effects on coinfesting competitors. On uninfested plants, both herbivore species preferred young leaves, coinciding with increased mite performance. On plants with heterospecifics, the mites did not prefer leaves on which they had a better performance. In particular, T. urticae avoided leaves infested with T. evansi, which is in agreement with T. urticae being outcompeted by T. evansi. In contrast, T. evansi did not avoid leaves with the other species, but distributed itself evenly over plants infested with heterospecifics. We hypothesize that this behavior of T. evansi may prevent further spread of T. urticae over the shared plant. Our results indicate that leaf age determines within-plant distribution of herbivores only in absence of competitors. Moreover, they show that this distribution depends on the order of arrival of competitors and on their effects on each other, with herbivores showing differences in behavior within the plant as a possible response to the outcome of those interactions.