A novel experimental approach for studying life-history traits of phytophagous arthropods utilizing an artificial culture medium.
Experimental approaches to studying life-history traits in minute herbivorous arthropods are hampered by the need to work with detached host plant material and the difficulty of maintaining that material in a suitable condition to support the animal throughout the duration of the test. In order to address this shortcoming, we developed a customizable agar-based medium modified from an established plant cell-culture medium to nourish detached leaves laid atop it while also preventing arthropods from escaping the experimental arena. The artificial culture medium was tested with two herbivorous mite species: the wheat curl mite (Aceria tosichella; Eriophyidae) and two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae; Tetranychidae). The proposed approach was a major improvement over a standard protocol for prolonged studies of individual eriophyid mites and also provided some benefits for experiments with spider mites. Moreover, the described method can be easily modified according to the requirements of host plant species and applied to a wide range of microherbivore species. Such applications include investigations of life-history traits and other ecological and evolutionary questions, e.g. mating or competitive behaviours or interspecific interactions, assessing invasiveness potential and predicting possible outbreaks. The approach presented here should have a significant impact on the advancement of evolutionary and ecological research on microscopic herbivores.