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Effects of plant quality on caterpillar performance

Fertilizers are commonly applied to plants in both agricultural and ornamental settings and these fertilizers can affect insect herbivores. Beet armyworms, Spodoptera exigua, are phytophagous insects that are easy to rear in the lab. In this exercise, students design an experiment that manipulates plant quality via fertilizer application and then measure the effect of fertilization on caterpillar performance. In the first class, students design the experiment and apply the treatments. In subsequent weeks, students conduct a feeding trial where they collect and analyze data on caterpillar performance. Each student writes a lab report based on class data.
Primary or BEN resource type
Secondary resource type
Discipline Specific Core Concepts
Life science discipline (subject)
Keywords Community ecology, herbivores, plant quality, population ecology, species interactions, herbivory, plant-animal interactions
Intended End User Role
Educational Language
Pedagogical Use Description This experiment is a guided-inquiry exercise, so it can be transferred to other
levels by providing more or less guidance to the students in terms of
experimental design and data analysis. This experiment could be conducted with
wide variety host plant species (cotton, soybeans, collards, lettuce). Other
phytophagous insects that are easily reared in the laboratory such as the tobacco
hornworms (Manduca sexta) and the cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae),
could be used. Besides fertilizer, other treatments could be used such as
comparing different plant species, the presence or absence of a mutualism if
legumes and rhizobia are used, or soil moisture levels.
Primary Author Controlled Name
Primary Author Affiliation Springfield Technical Community College, Office of Learning Engagement & Advancement
Primary Author email
Rights Caralyn Zehnder. 16 March 2016, posting date. Effects of plant quality on caterpillar performance Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology, Vol. 11: Experiment #1 [online].
Date Of Record Submission 2017-11-27

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