Secondary Defence Chemicals in Milkweed Reduce Parasite Infection in Monarch Butterflies, Danaus plexippus

In tri-trophic systems, herbivores may benefit from their host plants in fighting parasitic infections. Plants can provide parasite resistance in two contrasting ways: either directly, by interfering with the parasite, or indirectly, by increasing herbivore immunity or health. In monarch butterflies, the larval diet of milkweed strongly influences the fitness of a common protozoan parasite. Toxic secondary plant chemicals known as cardenolides correlate strongly with parasite resistance of the host, with greater cardenolide concentrations in the larval diet leading to lower parasite growth. However, milkweed cardenolides may covary with other indices of plant quality including nutrients, and a direct experimental link between cardenolides and parasite performance has not been established. To determine if the anti-parasitic activity of milkweeds is indeed due to secondary chemicals, as opposed to nutrition, the authors supplemented the diet of infected and uninfected monarch larvae with milkweed latex, which contains cardenolides but no nutrients. Across three experiments, increased dietary cardenolide concentrations reduced parasite growth in infected monarchs, which consequently had longer lifespans. However, uninfected monarchs showed no differences in lifespan across treatments, confirming that cardenolide-containing latex does not increase general health. The authors concluded that the findings from this study suggest that cardenolides are a driving force behind plant-derived resistance in this system.

Authors: Gowler CD, Leon KE, Hunter MD, de Roode JC. ;Full Source: Journal of Chemical Ecology. 2015 May 9. [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Epub ahead of print] ;[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]