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Plant-herbivore interactions in a changing world - Indirect effects of climate change on the butterfly Pieris napi

  • Recent climate change and its consequences for living organisms constitute one of the greatest problems of our century. Global warming entails an increase in mean temperature and the frequencies of extreme weather events. Those changes in environmental conditions affect both plants and animals. Because of their inability to escape from unsuitable environments, plants have evolved a wide spectrum of molecular programs to protect themselves against changing conditions. Responding on altered environmental conditions will change plants chemical composition and therefore also affect plants interaction with other species (e.g., predator-prey or symbiotic relationships). For instance, changes in the chemical composition of plants may influence the survival of associated herbivores. In other words, these herbivores will be affected indirectly by climate change due to changes in the suitability / quality of their food. The aim of this doctoral thesis was to discover the effects of climate change within the relationship of the butterfly Pieris napi and its host plant (Sinapis alba used here as host plant), including individual conditions (e.g. chemical compositions of plants; morphology, physiology of the butterfly) and behavior of female butterflies and larvae. In the first experiment, the influence of simulated climate change on the chemical composition of the plant Sinapis alba was investigated. The second experiment aimed to examine the influence of changes in plant composition on the butterfly P. napi. Glucosinolates (secondary compound of plants) are known to have an important effect on the preference and performance of herbivores. Therefore, in the third experiment, the impact of glucosinolates on the preference and performance of P. napi was investigated in order to see if these plant compounds had the most important influence on this butterfly. Furthermore, in the fourth experiment, it was explored whether there is a latitudinal gradient within the species´ responses to changes in its host plant. The fifth and last experiment aimed to examine, if there are general principles across species regarding indirect effects of climate change. Climate change, simulated by different combinations of temperature and water regimes, had an effect on the plant chemistry. The combination of temperature and water availability changed plant composition substantially. Especially the amount of carbon and glucosinolates (here above all sinalbin) in S. alba plants varies between the different treatments and therefore between the different combinations of temperature and water regimes. Regarding glucosinolates, elevated temperatures increased their concentration in leaves, whereas water deficit in combination with higher temperature reversed this pattern. For carbon content, all plants, except those of the control group, showed a decreased amount of total carbon. However, simulated heat waves had no effect on plants, leading to the assumption that the plants were able to recover from heat stress sufficiently during the control phases. Changes in plant composition affected both larvae and females of the butterfly P. napi. Therefore, changed host-plant chemistry alters the plant quality for this herbivore, meaning that plants of different treatments represent different plant qualities defined by their composition. Females of P. napi may be able to differentiate between plant qualities and even show a direct preference. Therefore, glucosinolates seem to act as oviposition stimulants. However, preferring another plant quality with lower amount of glucosinolates suggest that females of this butterfly species were attracted by more than high levels of glucosinolates alone. Larvae fed with different plant qualities performed differently, indicated by smaller wings (lighter bodies) and prolonged development when fed with plants contained higher amount of the glucosinolate sinalbin. It can be assumed that a higher amount of sinalbin decreases the quality of the host plant and therefore lead to these responses. Probably larvae need to shift their resources from growth to detoxification and therewith survival. Furthermore, drought conditions during plant growth seem to reduce the overall negative effects of higher temperatures, lead to an increase of host plant quality. Larvae seem to benefit from feeding on these “double-stressed” plants. Comparison between the results of the preference and performance tests suggests that there might be a mismatch between female preference and larval performance. It seems that the stimulating effect of high concentration of glucosinolates, in this case sinalbin, misdirects females´ decision to less suitable host plants, meaning that the advantage of less competition for larvae come at costs through detoxification. Using Brassica napus plants with genetically fixed glucosinolate levels, it could be demonstrate that there must be other plant components influencing females´ oviposition behavior been seen in the choice experiment with S. alba. The comparison of German and Italian populations to changes in host-plant quality showed fewer differences between countries as expected. However, German and Italian individuals differed in their reaction to altered plant quality, at least in developmental time and larval growth rate. It seems that Italian larvae benefitted from plants grown under higher temperatures, whereas drought-stressed plants affected them negatively. German individuals in contrast seem to benefit only from water stress during plant growth. With regard to the sexes of P. napi, it seems that females respond differently than males to changes in plant quality. Furthermore, the results of the performance test on Bicyclus anynana showed that there might be some general principles for the respond of butterflies to changes of its host plant. B. anynana responded in a similar way to different host plant qualities as P. napi did, meaning that plants grown under higher temperatures and drought conditions seem to be beneficial for the larval performance. In summary, these findings may have important implications for the indirect effects of climate change on this butterfly in natural environments. First, climate change seems to have an impact on the chemical composition of plants. Second, changes in plants caused by increasing temperature and droughts seem to influence the preference and performance of this butterfly. However, there are differences between populations, which seem to be induced by former adaptation. And third, there might be some general principles for the respond of butterflies to changes in their host plants. This thesis focuses only on possible indirect effects of climate change. However, there are direct effects, which may alter the responses of herbivores to changes in their host plant as well. Therefore, further investigations in this linkage and in other plant-herbivore relationships will be necessary to explore how climate change may alter the relationship between herbivores and their hosts.
  • In dieser Dissertation werden die indirekten Auswirkungen des Klimawandels auf den Tagfalter Pieris napi betrachtet. Dabei zeigte sich, dass eine Simulation von Temperaturerhöhung und Trockenheit Veränderungen in den Futterpflanzen hervorrufen, welche wiederum einen Einfluss auf die Präferenz und Performance der Tiere haben. Darüber hinaus wurden ähnliche Reaktionen auf veränderte Futterpflanzen bei verschiedenen Populationen dieser Art und bei einer weiteren, tropischen Tagfalterart (Bicyclus anynana) gefunden.

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Author: Josephine Kuczyk
Title Additional (German):Interaktion zwischen Pflanzen und Pflanzenfressern in einer sich ändernden Welt - Indirekte Effekte des Klimawandels auf den Schmetterling Pieris napi
Referee:Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Klaus Fischer, Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Caroline Müller
Advisor:Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Klaus Fischer
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Year of Completion:2020
Date of first Publication:2020/02/13
Granting Institution:Universität Greifswald, Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Date of final exam:2020/01/27
Release Date:2020/02/13
Tag:plant-herbivore interaction
GND Keyword:Herbivor, Interaktion, Klimawandel, Pflanzen, Pieris napi, Schmetterling, global change, host plant quality, performance
Faculties:Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät / Zoologisches Institut und Museum
DDC class:500 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 590 Tiere (Zoologie)