Some herbivores can modify the physiology of plant modules to meet their nutritional requirements. Induction of premature leaf senescence could benefit herbivores since it is associated with the mobilisation of nutrients. We compared the effects of nymphal feeding by Cardiaspina near densitexta on Eucalyptus moluccana with endogenous processes associated with senescence to assess the relative merits of an insect manipulation or plant defence interpretation of responses. Evidence supporting insect manipulation included increased size of fourth and fifth instar nymphs (in the latter the effect was restricted to forewing pad length of females) on leaves supporting high numbers of conspecifics and feeding preventing leaf necrosis. Intra-specific competition negated greater performance at very high densities. High and very high abundances of nymphs were associated with increased concentrations of amino acid N but only very high abundances of nymphs tended to be associated with increased concentrations of six essential amino acids. Contrary to the insect manipulation interpretation, feeding by very high abundances of nymphs was associated with significant reductions in chlorophyll, carotenoids and anthocyanins. Evidence supporting plant defence included the severity of chlorosis increasing with the abundance of nymphs. Leaf reddening did not develop because ambient conditions associated with photoinhibition (high irradiance and low temperature) were not experienced by leaves with chlorotic lesions. Leaf reddening (from anthocyanins) alone is not expected to adversely affect nymphal survival; only leaf necrosis would kill nymphs. For senescence-inducing psyllids, nutritional enhancement does not fit neatly into either an insect manipulation or plant defence interpretation.