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J Exp Biol. 2010 Sep 15;213(Pt 18):3177-86. doi: 10.1242/jeb.040964.

Innate olfactory preferences in dung beetles.

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Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, CNRS UMR 5175, 34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France.


The effects of insect larval diet on adult olfactory responses to host-plant or food volatiles are still debated. The induction of adult host preferences has been studied in insects with diverse ecologies, including parasitoids, flower-visitors and phytophagous species. We investigated this question for the first time in a coprophagous insect species. Larvae of the French scarab dung beetle Agrilinus constans were reared on four different artificial substrates containing dung from cattle, horse, sheep or wild boar, and responses of imagos to dung volatiles were then behaviourally tested in an olfactometer. We also reported the first analysis of the composition of different mammal dung volatiles. We showed that adult beetles were more attracted to cattle and sheep dung odours, and that larval feeding experience had no effect on the adult olfactory responses to dung volatiles. A second experiment showed that the presence of other insects inside the dung resource affects the process of dung selection by adults. We identified 64 chemical compounds from dung emissions, and showed that dung volatiles clearly differed among different mammal species, allowing olfactory discrimination by dung beetles. Our results suggest that resource selection in coprophagous insects may be based on innate olfactory preferences. Further experiments should examine whether Agrilinus adults can learn new dung odours, and whether larval diet may influence the behaviour of adults in other coprophagous species.

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