Parasitoids select plants more heavily infested with their caterpillar hosts: a new approach to aid interpretation of plant headspace volatiles

Girling, Robbie D., Stewart-Jones, Alex, Dherbecourt, Julie, Staley, Joanna T., Wright, Denis J. and Poppy, Guy M. (2011) Parasitoids select plants more heavily infested with their caterpillar hosts: a new approach to aid interpretation of plant headspace volatiles. Proceedings of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences, 278, (1718), 2646-2653. (doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.2725). (PMID:21270031).


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Plants produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in response to herbivore attack, and these VOCs can be used by parasitoids of the herbivore as host location cues. We investigated the behavioural responses of the parasitoid Cotesia vestalis to VOCs from a plant–herbivore complex consisting of cabbage plants (Brassica oleracea) and the parasitoids host caterpillar, Plutella xylostella. A Y-tube olfactometer was used to compare the parasitoids' responses to VOCs produced as a result of different levels of attack by the caterpillar and equivalent levels of mechanical damage. Headspace VOC production by these plant treatments was examined using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry.

Cotesia vestalis were able to exploit quantitative and qualitative differences in volatile emissions, from the plant–herbivore complex, produced as a result of different numbers of herbivores feeding. Cotesia vestalis showed a preference for plants with more herbivores and herbivore damage, but did not distinguish between different levels of mechanical damage. Volatile profiles of plants with different levels of herbivores/herbivore damage could also be separated by canonical discriminant analyses. Analyses revealed a number of compounds whose emission increased significantly with herbivore load, and these VOCs may be particularly good indicators of herbivore number, as the parasitoid processes cues from its external environment.

Item Type: Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.2725
ISSNs: 0962-8452 (print)
1471-2954 (electronic)
Keywords: herbivore-induced plant volatiles, hymenoptera, lepidoptera, parasitoid host location, tritrophic, volatile organic compounds
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Q Science > QK Botany
R Medicine > R Medicine (General)
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Biological Sciences
ePrint ID: 181517
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
26 January 2011Published
Date Deposited: 18 Apr 2011 13:00
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 13:36
Sustainable pest control - comparing tritrophic interactions in organic and conventional production systems
Funded by: BBSRC (BB/D01154X/1)
Led by: Guy Matthew Poppy
1 April 2006 to 31 July 2009

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