Bulletin of Entomological Research

Research Paper

Jumping – ship – can have its costs: implications of predation and host plant species for the maintenance of pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum Harris) colour polymorphism

Adalbert Balog 

School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, 370 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT, USA

Department of Horticulture, Faculty of Technical Science, Sapientia University, Sighisoara str. 1/C, Tg.Mures, Romania


The interplay between the host plant of an insect herbivore and an insect predator (here two-spot ladybird beetles; Adalia bipunctata (L).; Coleoptera: Coccinellidae), feeding upon such a herbivore was examined in the laboratory as factors possibly determining the differential abundance and success of green and red host races of pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum Harris. The experiment comprised three treatments: two host plants (bean and clover), two treatment levels (control and predation) and three colour morph levels (green alone, red alone and green and red in mixture). Green morphs had higher fitness on the general host plant, bean Vicia faba, than on the derived host, clover (Trifolium pratense), in the absence of predation. Although green morph fitness was reduced by predation when infesting bean together with reds, there was no observable net fitness loss due to predation on clover in mixed colonies with red morphs. Red morphs exhibited fitness loss alone on both bean and clover, while clover plants seemingly prevented fitness loss in the presence of predation when red morphs were mixed with green ones. According to this scenario, when colour morphs existed as a mixed colony, the net fitness of either pea aphid morph was not influenced by predation on clover. Predators had significant effects only on red morphs on broad bean either when alone or were mixed together with green morphs. Thus, only red morphs experienced the benefits of switching from the general to the derived host red clover in the presence of predation. For green morphs, there was no apparent cost of switching host plants when they faced predation. Hence, the co-existence of green-red colour polymorphism of pea aphids on single host plants appears to be maintained by the morph gaining fitness on the derived host due to a host plant– and predation–reduction effect. These findings have important implications for understanding the ecology and evolution of host switching by different colour-plant host adapted races of pea aphids.

(Accepted March 18 2013)

(Online publication April 22 2013)


  • fitness;
  • host plants;
  • interactions;
  • insect predation


Author for correspondence Phone: 0040740562240 Fax: 0040265206211 E-mail: adalbert.balog@fulbrightmail.org