This study examined how variability in Neotyphodium endophyte-grass associations influences black cutworm Agrotis ipsilon Hufnagel performance and susceptibility to the entomopathogenic nematode Steinernema carpocapsae (Weiser). Second-instar cutworm larvae were confined to greenhouse pots containing four different tall fescue Schedonorus phoenix (Scop.) Holub cultivars. After 1 wk, larvae were recovered from the pots, weighed, and individually exposed to 20 infective juvenile nematodes. Nematode-induced mortality was monitored for 72 h after exposure. Endophyte infection levels and ergot alkaloid concentrations varied between escue cultivars, but endophyte infection level was not a significant predictor of ergot alkaloid concentrations in aboveground plant tissue. Larval survival also varied between cultivars, but neither endophyte infection level nor ergot alkaloid concentration was a significant covariate. Larval susceptibility to the entomopathogenic nematode varied between cultivars at 48 and 72 h after exposure. In all but one cultivar (Plantation), cumulative mortality at 72 h decreased significantly as ergot alkaloid concentrations increased. Neither larval biomass nor endophyte infection levels in tall fescue were significant predictors of larval susceptibility to the nematode. Results show that variation in endophyte-plant associations can influence black cutworm performance and susceptibility to entomopathogenic nematodes and that susceptibility to the nematode H. bacteriophora may be partially tied to ergot alkaloid levels in the insects' food. Findings further support the assertion that black cutworm may use certain endophyte-mediated toxins, particularly ergot alkaloids, as a form of acquired chemical defense against nematode-induced septicaemia.
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