Plants (Basel). 2023 Aug 7;12(15):2886. doi: 10.3390/plants12152886.
Drought, a major stress for crop plants, is expected to increase in frequency due to climate change. Drought can alter crop growth and levels of secondary plant metabolites, which in turn can affect herbivores, but this latter point is still controversial. This study used three different polyethylene glycol (PEG-6000) levels (0%, 1%, and 3%) to simulate drought stress and evaluated their effects on cotton plants and the impacts on the performance of the cotton aphid Aphis gossypii. Cotton plants under drought stress showed decreased water content, above-ground biomass, and nitrogen content and increased soluble protein, soluble sugar, and tannin contents. Based on analysis of the developmental time and fecundity data from individuals and at the population level, a significantly lower fecundity and population abundance of A. gossypii were detected on cotton plants with drought stress, which supports the “plant vigor hypothesis”. The poor development of A. gossypii is possibly related to lower xylem sap and phloem ingestion under drought stress. In addition, the increased tannin content of cotton plants induced by drought and lower detoxification enzyme activities of A. gossypii may have affected the responses of aphids to drought-stressed plants. Overall, the results showed that drought stress altered the physiological characteristics of the cotton plants, resulting in adverse bottom-up effects on cotton aphid performances. This implies that the adoption of drip irrigation under plastic film that can help alleviate drought stress may favor the population growth of cotton aphids.