The plant metabolome guides fitness-relevant foraging decisions of a specialist herbivore

Machado, Ricardo A.R.; Theepan, Vanitha; Robert, Christelle A. M.; Züst, Tobias; Hu, Lingfei; Su, Qi; Schimmel, Bernardus C. J.; Erb, Matthias (2021). The plant metabolome guides fitness-relevant foraging decisions of a specialist herbivore. PLoS biology, 19(2), e3001114. Public Library of Science 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001114

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Plants produce complex mixtures of primary and secondary metabolites. Herbivores use these metabolites as behavioral cues to increase their fitness. However, how herbivores combine and integrate different metabolite classes into fitness-relevant foraging decisions in planta is poorly understood. We developed a molecular manipulative approach to modulate the availability of sugars and benzoxazinoid secondary metabolites as foraging cues for a specialist maize herbivore, the western corn rootworm. By disrupting sugar perception in the western corn rootworm and benzoxazinoid production in maize, we show that sugars and benzoxazinoids act as distinct and dynamically combined mediators of short-distance host finding and acceptance. While sugars improve the capacity of rootworm larvae to find a host plant and to distinguish postembryonic from less nutritious embryonic roots, benzoxazinoids are specifically required for the latter. Host acceptance in the form of root damage is increased by benzoxazinoids and sugars in an additive manner. This pattern is driven by increasing damage to postembryonic roots in the presence of benzoxazinoids and sugars. Benzoxazinoid- and sugar-mediated foraging directly improves western corn rootworm growth and survival. Interestingly, western corn rootworm larvae retain a substantial fraction of their capacity to feed and survive on maize plants even when both classes of chemical cues are almost completely absent. This study unravels fine-grained differentiation and combination of primary and secondary metabolites into herbivore foraging and documents how the capacity to compensate for the lack of important chemical cues enables a specialist herbivore to survive within unpredictable metabolic landscapes.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Biotic Interactions
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

UniBE Contributor:

Ruiz Machado, Ricardo Alberto, Robert, Christelle Aurélie Maud, Züst, Tobias, Hu, Lingfei, Su, Qi, Schimmel, Bernardus Cornelis J., Erb, Matthias


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)




Public Library of Science




Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

06 Apr 2021 15:52

Last Modified:

02 Mar 2023 23:34

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:





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