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PLoS One. 2013 Oct 8;8(10):e77135. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077135. eCollection 2013.

Host plant odors represent immiscible information entities - blend composition and concentration matter in hawkmoths.

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1
Department of Evolutionary Neuroethology, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Jena, Germany.

Abstract

Host plant choice is of vital importance for egg laying herbivorous insects that do not exhibit brood care. Several aspects, including palatability, nutritional quality and predation risk, have been found to modulate host preference. Olfactory cues are thought to enable host location. However, experimental data on odor features that allow choosing among alternative hosts while still in flight are not available. It has previously been shown that M. sexta females prefer Datura wrightii compared to Nicotiana attenuata. The bouquet of the latter is more intense and contains compounds typically emitted by plants after feeding-damage to attract the herbivore's enemies. In this wind tunnel study, we offered female gravid hawkmoths (Manduca sexta) odors from these two ecologically relevant, attractive, non-flowering host species. M. sexta females preferred surrogate leaves scented with vegetative odors form both host species to unscented control leaves. Given a choice between species, females preferred the odor bouquet emitted by D. wrightii to that of N. attenuata. Harmonizing, i.e. adjusting, volatile intensity to similar levels did not abolish but significantly weakened this preference. Superimposing, i.e. mixing, the highly attractive headspaces of both species, however, abolished discrimination between scented and non-scented surrogate leaves. Beyond ascertaining the role of blend composition in host plant choice, our results raise the following hypotheses. (i) The odor of a host species is perceived as a discrete odor 'Gestalt', and its core properties are lost upon mixing two attractive scents (ii). Stimulus intensity is a secondary feature affecting olfactory-based host choice (iii). Constitutively smelling like a plant that is attracting herbivore enemies may be part of a plant's strategy to avoid herbivory where alternative hosts are available to the herbivore.

PMID:
24116211
PMCID:
PMC3792911
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0077135
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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