Mutualism has its limits: Consequences of asymmetric interactions between a well-defended plant and its herbivorous pollinator

Maria Sol Balbuena, Geoffrey T. Broadhead, Ajinkya Dahake, Emily Barnett, Melissa Vergara, Krissa A. Skogen, Tania Jogesh, Robert A. Raguso*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Concern for pollinator health often focuses on social bees and their agricultural importance at the expense of other pollinators and their ecosystem services. When pollinating herbivores use the same plants as nectar sources and larval hosts, ecological conflicts emerge for both parties, as the pollinator's services are mitigated by herbivory and its larvae are harmed by plant defences. We tracked individual-level metrics of pollinator health-growth, survivorship, fecundity-across the life cycle of a pollinating herbivore, the common hawkmoth, Hyles lineata, interacting with a rare plant, Oenothera harringtonii, that is polymorphic for the common floral volatile (R)-(-)-linalool. Linalool had no impact on floral attraction, but its experimental addition suppressed oviposition on plants lacking linalool. Plants showed robust resistance against herbivory from leaf-disc to whole-plant scales, through poor larval growth and survivorship. Higher larval performance on other Oenothera species indicates that constitutive herbivore resistance by O. harringtonii is not a genus-wide trait. Leaf volatiles differed among populations of O. harringtonii but were not induced by larval herbivory. Similarly, elagitannins and other phenolics varied among plant tissues but were not herbivore-induced. Our findings highlight asymmetric plant-pollinator interactions and the importance of third parties, including alternative larval host plants, in maintaining pollinator health. This article is part of the theme issue 'Natural processes influencing pollinator health: From chemistry to landscapes'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20210166
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1853
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • asymmetric interactions
  • elagitannins
  • linalool
  • pollinating herbivore
  • pollinator health
  • prairie endemic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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