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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 May 22;272(1567):1023-9.

Vibrational communication facilitates cooperative foraging in a phloem-feeding insect.

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  • 1Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Unit 0948, APO AA 34002-0948, USA.


Insects are the dominant herbivores in tropical forests, with a range of mechanisms for exploiting plant resources. For group-living species, such mechanisms may involve communication. The Neotropical treehopper Calloconophora pinguis (Hemiptera: Membracidae) is a sap-feeding species in which groups of siblings feed on new leaves during the brief period of leaf expansion. Using an experimental approach, a process of cooperative foraging among siblings was documented, in which a few individuals in a group behave as scouts, locating a new feeding site and advertising it using plant-borne vibrational signals. Signalling leads to a period of positive feedback in which newly recruited individuals signal in concert with those already there. The food signalling system of C. pinguis is unique in its use of synchronized group displays and in the tight coordination of receiver responses with collective signals. Examples from a number of taxonomic groups show that vibrational communication can allow group-living insects to solve the challenges of feeding on plants, such as remaining in a foraging group or avoiding predation. While most research has focused on leaf-feeding species, sap-feeding species may remove just as much biomass. This study shows that cooperative vibrational communication underlies the ability of a sap-feeding species to exploit plant resources during a narrow window of availability.

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