As interest in production of second-generation biofuels increases, dedicated biomass crops are likely to be called upon to help meet feedstock demands. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a North American native perennial grass that as a candidate biomass crop, combines high biomass yields with other desirable ecosystem services. At present, switchgrass is produced on limited acres in the United States and experiences relatively minor insect pest problems. However, as switchgrass undergoes breeding to increase biomass yield and quality, and is grown on more acres, insect pest pressure will probably increase.To investigate how currently available switchgrass ecotypes and cultivars may influence herbivory by generalist insect herbivores, we performed feeding trials using neonate and late-instar fall armyworm [Spodoptera frugiperda JE Smith (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae)]. No-choice feeding experiments were used to explore how switchgrass varieties influence larval establishment, consumption levels, and life-history traits in contrast to a preferred host, corn (Zea mays L.). Neonate S. frugiperda consumed greater amounts of corn than switchgrass and increased amounts of upland versus lowland ecotypes. Late-instar larvae, which do the majority of the larval feeding, exhibited lower consumption of lowland ecotypes, which led to increased development time and reduced pupal weights. The exception to these trends was the upland cultivar ‘Trailblazer’, which unexpectedly performed similarly to lowland cultivars. These results suggest that both switchgrass ecotype and cultivar can influence feeding damage by a common generalist herbivore. These findings can be used to help inform current switchgrass planting decisions as well as future breeding efforts.
bioenergy cropping systems