Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi can indirectly affect insect herbivore performance by altering traits in their host plant. Typically, generalist herbivores are negatively affected by AM fungi, whereas specialists are positively affected. This is thought to be caused by differential abilities of specialists and generalists to tolerate and/or exploit plant secondary compounds, the prevalence of which may be related to mycorrhizal colonization. We performed a feeding experiment in which specialist sunflower beetle larvae (Zygogramma exclamationis Fabricius, Chrysomelidae) were fed on mycorrhizal or nonmycorrhizal common annual sunflower plants (Helianthus annuus L., Asteraceae). To determine the indirect effects of AM fungi on the sunflower beetle larvae, we measured insect survival and relative growth rate. We also measured leaf area eaten, which allowed relative growth rate to be broken down into two components: relative consumption rate and efficiency of conversion of ingested food. Contrary to several previous studies, we detected no indirect effects of mycorrhizal fungi on larval survival or on relative growth rate or its components. Small effect sizes suggest that this is nonsignificant biologically, as well as statistically, rather than merely an issue of statistical power. Our results support an emerging view that indirect effects of mycorrhizal fungi on insect herbivores may be complex and idiosyncratic. We suggest that future research should emphasize the effects of mycorrhizal fungi on individual plant traits and how these interact to affect insect performance.
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