Plant defense against fall armyworm in micro-sympatric maize (Zea mays ssp mays) and Balsas teosinte (Zea mays ssp parviglumis) Academic Article uri icon


  • Maize [Zea mays L. ssp. mays (Poaceae)] was domesticated from Balsas teosinte (Zea mays ssp. parviglumis Iltis & Doebley) in present-day Mexico. Fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda JE Smith (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), is among the most important pests of maize in Mexico and Central America. We compared the strength of plant defenses against fall armyworm between micro-sympatric landrace maize and Balsas teosinte in the field and laboratory. The field comparison, conducted in Mexico, consisted of comparing the frequency of fall armyworm infestation between young maize and Balsas teosinte plants in dryland agricultural fields in which Balsas teosinte grew as a weed. The laboratory comparison contrasted the performance of fall armyworm larvae provided a diet of leaf tissue excised from maize or Balsas teosinte plants that were intact or had been primed by larval feeding. In the field, maize plants were more frequently infested with fall armyworm than Balsas teosinte plants: over 3 years and three fields, maize was infested at a ca. 1.8-fold greater rate than Balsas teosinte. In the laboratory, larval growth, but not survivorship, was differently affected by feeding on maize vs. Balsas teosinte, and on primed vs. intact plants. Specifically, survivorship was ca. 98%, and did not differ between maize and Balsas teosinte, nor between primed and intact plants. Larvae grew less on intact vs. primed maize, and similarly on intact vs. primed Balsas teosinte; overall, growth was 1.2-fold greater on maize compared to Balsas teosinte, and on primed compared to intact plants. Parallel observations showed that the differences in growth could not be attributed to the amount of leaf tissue consumed by larvae. We discuss our results in relation to differences in the strength of plant defenses between crops and their ancestors, the relevance of unmanaged Balsas teosinte introgression in the context of fall armyworm defenses in maize, and whether greater growth of larvae on primed vs. intact plants signifies herbivore offense. 2012 The Netherlands Entomological Society.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Takahashi, C. G., Kalns, L. L., & Bernal, J. S.

citation count

  • 21

complete list of authors

  • Takahashi, Chelsea G||Kalns, Lauren L||Bernal, Julio S

publication date

  • December 2012