Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics

Stealthy feeding: why do host plants allow it?

15 November 2011

The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) awarded a TOP-grant to the IBED Population Biologists Maurice Sabelis, Martijn Egas, Arne Janssen en Merijn Kant to answer this question.

fltr: Dr. Merijn Kant, Prof. Maurice Sabelis, Dr. Arne Janssen, Dr. Martijn Egas.

Plants can ward off herbivores: upon attack they can lower their palatability, for example via the production of toxins, but they can also recruit natural enemies of the plant eaters via specific odor signals. However, herbivores try to escape this “double bearhug”. The population biologists of the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) showed that the South-American spider mite Tetranychus evansi, which recently invaded Europe and became a pest in tomato crops, can manipulate the resistance mechanisms of tomato such that is does not become less palatable but even more (Sarmento et al., 2011).

By means of a TOP grant awarded by The Earth And LIfe Sciences Division of The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO-ALW), the group will now investigate (1) how this spider mite manages to suppress plant defenses; (2) how the suppression of plant defenses can arise by natural selection and (3) how this affects competition with other herbivores as well as interactions with natural enemies. Answers to these questions can initiate novel pest strategies.

Top grants

NWO-ALW TOP Grants are intended for established research groups within the earth and life sciences. The subsidies offer these groups the opportunity and freedom to strengthen and/or further extend excellent, challenging and innovative lines of research. A TOP grant carries a monetary award of 750 k€.


Sarmento, RA, Lemos, F., Bleeker, PM, Schuurink, RC, Pallini, A, Oliveira, MGA, Lima E., Kant, M, Sabelis, MW, Janssen, A. (2011). A herbivore that manipulates plant defence. Ecology Letters 14: 229–236.

Published by  IBED