New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2015) 39(1): 128- 132

Responding positively to plant defences, a candidate key trait for invasion success in the New Zealand grass grub Costelytra zealandica

Short Communication
Marie-Caroline Lefort 1,*
Susan P. Worner 1
Michael Rostas 1
Jessica Vereijssen 2
Stephane Boyer 1,3
  1. Bio-Protection Research Centre, PO Box 85084, Lincoln University, Lincoln 7647, Canterbury, New Zealand
  2. Plant & Food Research, Private Bag 4704, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand
  3. Department of Ecology, Faculty of Agriculture and Life Sciences, PO Box 85084, Lincoln University, Lincoln 7647, Canterbury, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Occasionally, exotic plant introductions lead to the emergence of an invasive insect within its native geographical range. Such emergence could be explained by a pre-adaptation of the insect to break through the defences of the new encountered host. We investigated the fitness responses of two New Zealand endemic scarabs (Costelytra brunneum and C. zealandica) when given a diet of an exotic pasture species, Trifolium repens, whose defences were artificially triggered by the phytohormone jasmonic acid. We found differential fitness responses between the two species when they were exposed to a defence-induced diet. We observed a significant weight increase in the invasive species C. zealandica when it was fed with treated roots compared with untreated controls, whereas no significant weight increase was observed in the non-invasive C. brunneum compared with the control treatments. Our study suggests that C. zealandica has a pre-existing ability to tolerate the defence chemicals of its exotic host and, more interestingly, to benefit from them, which may explain why this species has become a serious pest of pasture throughout its native geographical range.