Effect of plant patch shape on the distribution and abundance of three lepidopteran species associated with Brassica oleracea
• Plant patch shape may affect the abundance of herbivorous insects. Patches of the same size but longer or irregular have a higher perimeter/area relationship (P/A) than square or regular ones, which may determine the immigration, emigration and abundance of individuals in the patch.
• Only specialist species should be affected by plant patch shape. Those species that are more abundant in smaller patches should be more abundant in patches with higher P/A, whereas those that are more abundant in larger patches should be more abundant in patches with lower P/A.
• We studied the density of eggs, larvae and pupae of Pieris brassicae, Plutella xylostella and Trichoplusia ni in square (low P/A) and I-shaped (high P/A) patches of 144 plants of Brassica oleracea. We also estimated their immigration to these patches, and the final plant weight.
• Plant patch shape affected the abundance, but not the distribution, of the two specialist species. Whereas P. brassicae was denser in I-shaped patches, P. xylostella was more abundant in square patches. The generalist T. ni was not affected by patch shape. Immigration of P. brassicae was higher in I-shaped patches, but immigration of P. xylostella and T. ni was not affected by patch shape. Plants were heavier in the centre of square patches.
• Our results suggest that plant patch shape affects the density of herbivorous insects and should be considered independently from other plant patch variables when studying the population dynamics of these organisms.