Predators can induce phenotypic plasticity in prey through selection driven by predation risk. However, defense plasticity is rarely reported in insects, let alone trans-generational plasticity, meaning the mechanisms underlying plasticity, how it impacts ecosystem evolution and how it might be exploited in pest control are poorly understood. Here we examine the morphological plasticity of small brown planthoppers (SBPHs), Laodelphax striatellus, elicited by caged predators, Paederus fuscipes in the parent or F1 generation and reveal the risk cues mediating these effects. We also uncover the survival outcomes in SBPHs with predator-induced defensive morphological traits by examining their survival probability and behavioral plasticity. Results showed that caged predators or predator odor cue gave rise to a higher proportion of long-winged, female SBPHs in the parent and F1 generations, but the proportion of males and their wing length were unaffected. The visual cue from predators elicited weaker effects. Surprisingly, we discovered these long-winged forms suffered a lower predation rate when attacked by P. fuscipes, owing to an enhanced agility level. Our results suggest the within- and trans-generational plasticity of induced defenses may cause profound effects on SBPH population dynamics and prey-predator interaction. Understanding this interaction and its underlying mechanisms illuminates important aspects of ecosystem evolution and helps predict pest dispersal or migration, which in turn may be exploited for pest control.
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