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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

The effects of host plant species and larval density on immune function in the polyphagous moth Spodoptera littoralis

Karlsson Green, Kristina


Immune functions are costly, and immune investment is usually dependent on the individual's condition and resource availability. For phytophagous insects, host plant quality has large effects on performance, for example growth and survival, and may also affect their immune function. Polyphagous insects often experience a large variation in quality among different host plant species, and their immune investment may thus vary depending on which host plant species they develop on. Larvae of the polyphagous moth Spodoptera littoralis have previously been found to exhibit density-dependent prophylaxis as they invest more in certain immune responses in high population densities. In addition, the immune response of S. littoralis has been shown to depend on nutrient quality in experiments with artificial diet. Here, I studied the effects of natural host plant diet and larval density on a number of immune responses to understand how host plant species affects immune investment in generalist insects, and whether the density-dependent prophylaxis could be mediated by host plant species. While host plant species in general did not mediate the density-dependent immune expression, particular host plant species was found to increase larval investment in certain functions of the immune system. Interestingly, these results indicate that different host plants may provide a polyphagous species with protection against different kinds of antagonisms. This insight may contribute to our understanding of the relationship between preference and performance in generalists, as well as having applied consequences for sustainable pest management.


crop protection; ecological immunology; host plant performance; Lepidoptera; nutritional immunology; phenotypic plasticity

Published in

Ecology and Evolution
2021, volume: 11, number: 15, pages: 10090-10097
Publisher: WILEY

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Plant Protection Biology

Associated SLU-program

SLU Network Plant Protection

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG15 Life on land

UKÄ Subject classification


Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)