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After more than 100 years apart, webworms devastate New Zealand parsnips
Date:1/30/2008

oking at one variable, and its the insect, she said. The soil is essentially the same as it was 10 years ago. The climate is more or less the same.

The neighboring plants are the same. The only variable is the insect and we have shown that the insect is a selective agent.

Berenbaum and Zangerl have spent several decades studying the co-evolution of the parsnip and its webworm.

In the late 1990s, they studied pre-1900 museum specimens of parsnips collected in the U.S. They found that the furanocoumarin compound sphondin produced in high levels in parsnips growing in the U.S. today occurred at low levels or not at all in the oldest museum specimens. Early colonists brought parsnips to the New World in the early 17th century, but the parsnip webworms did not arrive for another two centuries. The webworms have difficulty metabolizing sphondin.

This suggested that the plants ramped up production of sphondin in response to the webworm infestation, the researchers concluded.

These findings have implications for those hoping to manage invasive weeds by importing the insects that attack them in their native land, Berenbaum said. While such strategies may appear to be effective initially, the plants may be able to adjust to the insect threats over time by upping their chemical defenses. Only time, and more data collected in New Zealand, will determine if this occurs, and if it does, how quickly the plants can respond, she said.


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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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