Genetic variation in plants alters insect abundance and community structure in the field; however, little is known about the importance of a single gene among diverse plant genotypes. In this context, Arabidopsis trichomes provide an excellent system to discern the roles of natural variation and a key gene, GLABRA1, in shaping insect communities. In this study, we transplanted two independent glabrous mutants (gl1–1 and gl1–2) and 17 natural accessions of Arabidopsis thaliana to two localities in Switzerland and Japan.
Fifteen insect species inhabited the plant accessions, with the insect community composition significantly attributed to variations among plant accessions. The total abundance of leaf-chewing herbivores was negatively correlated with trichome density at both field sites, while glucosinolates had variable effects on leaf chewers between the sites. Interestingly, there was a parallel tendency for the abundance of leaf chewers to be higher on gl1–1 and gl1–2 than on their different parental accessions, Ler-1 and Col-0, respectively. Furthermore, the loss of function in the GLABRA1 gene significantly decreased the resistance of plants to the two predominant chewers; flea beetles and turnip sawflies.
Overall, our results indicate that insect community composition significantly varies among A. thaliana accessions across two distant field sites, with GLABRA1 playing a key role in altering the abundance of leaf-chewing herbivores. Given that such a trichome variation is widely observed in Brassicaceae plants, the present study exemplifies the community-wide effect of a single plant gene on crucifer-feeding insects in the field.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.