Benefits of trenching behavior in the context of an inducible defense

Jennifer L.E. Chambers, May R. Berenbaum, Arthur R. Zangerl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many species of insects sabotage the pressurized defense vessels of their host plants prior to feeding. This behavior, however, does not render leaves indefinitely suitable, as some species employing this behavior eventually abandon uneaten portions of sabotaged leaves. In this study, we examined whether and to what degree wild parsnip, Pastinaca sativa, is capable of restoring its pressurized defenses and whether cabbage loopers, Trichoplusa ni, which normally trench parsnip leaflets, benefit from their trenching behavior. The pressurized oil tubes of parsnip leaves are rich in toxic terpenoids and furanocoumarins. A disruption of the integrity of the tubes (via razor blade nicks) in leaflets revealed that that some of their contents were expelled at the break and that some movement of oil from outside the leaflet (i.e., the midvein) occurred, bolstering furanocoumarin levels in the leaflet within minutes. Pressure and chemical content in a leaflet's oil tubes were also shown to be restored within 24 hours of depressurization. This recovery ability allowed parsnip leaflets to respond to daily depressurizations by mechanical damage for up to at least 5 assaults, cumulatively causing an approximate ten-fold increase in furanocoumarins. Cabbage loopers fed parsnip leaflets that were artificially trenched accumulated twice as much body mass as larvae fed leaflets augmented with furanocoumarins equivalent to the quantity that would be avoided through trenching, indicating that trenching does benefit the herbivore. Although parsnip recovers from trenching rapidly, it does not do so within the time that cabbage loopers consume trenched leaflets

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-130
Number of pages6
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2007


  • Defense
  • Furanocoumarins
  • Oil tubes
  • Pastinaca sativa
  • Trichoplusia ni

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Benefits of trenching behavior in the context of an inducible defense'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this