Within-plant distribution of 1,4-benzoxazin-3-ones contributes to herbivore niche differentiation in maize.
Plant defences vary in space and time, which may translate into specific herbivore-foraging patterns and feeding niche differentiation. To date, little is known about the effect of secondary metabolite patterning on within-plant herbivore foraging. We investigated how variation in the major maize secondary metabolites, 1,4-benzoxazin-3-one derivatives (BXDs), affects the foraging behaviour of two leaf-chewing herbivores. BXD levels varied substantially within plants. Older leaves had higher levels of constitutive BXDs while younger leaves were consistently more inducible. These differences were observed independently of plant age, even though the concentrations of most BXDs declined markedly in older plants. Larvae of the well-adapted maize pest Spodoptera frugiperda preferred and grew better on young inducible leaves irrespective of plant age, while larvae of the generalist Spodoptera littoralis preferred and tended to grow better on old leaves. In BXD-free mutants, the differences in herbivore weight gain between old and young leaves were absent for both species, and leaf preferences of S. frugiperda were attenuated. In contrast, S. littoralis foraging patterns were not affected. In summary, our study shows that plant secondary metabolites differentially affect performance and foraging of adapted and non-adapted herbivores and thereby likely contribute to feeding niche differentiation.