Host-herbivore studies of Stenoscepa sp (Orthoptera : Pyrgomorphidae), a high-Ni herbivore of the South African Ni hyperaccumulator Berkheya coddii (Asteraceae)
Nymphs of Stenoscepa sp. feed on leaves of the Ni hyperaccumulator Berkheya coddii at serpentine sites in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. These sites contain Ni hyperaccumulators, Ni accumulators, and plants with Ni concentrations in the normal range. We conducted studies to: (i) determine the whole-body metal concentration of nymphs (including those starved to empty their guts); (ii) compare Stenoscepa sp. nymphs against other grasshoppers in the same habitat for whole-body metal concentrations; and (iii) compare the suitability of Ni hyperaccumulator and Ni accumulator plants as food sources for Stenoscepa sp. and other grasshoppers. Stenoscepa nymphs had extremely high whole-body Ni concentrations (3 500 mu g Ni/g). This was partly due to food in the gut, as starved insects contained less Ni (950 mu g Ni/g). Stenoscepa nymphs survived significantly better than other grasshoppers collected from either a serpentine or a non-serpentine site when offered high-Ni plants as food. In a host preference test among four Berkheya species (two Ni hyperaccumulators and two Ni accumulators), Stenoscepa sp. preferred leaves of the Ni hyperaccumulator species. A preference experiment using leaves of three Senecio species (of which one species, Senecio coronatus, was represented by both a Ni hyperaccumulator and a Ni accumulator population) showed that Stenoscepa sp. preferred Ni accumulator Senecio coronatus leaves to all other choices. We conclude that Stenoscepa sp. is extremely Ni-tolerant. Stenoscepa sp. nymphs prefer leaves of hyperaccumulator Berkheya species, but elevated Ni concentration alone does not determine their food preference. We suggest that the extremely high whole-body Ni concentration of Stenoscepa nymphs may affect food web relationships in these serpentine communities.