, Volume 83, Issue 4, pp 473-478

The economics of escape behaviour in the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum

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Pea aphids have several alternative responses to the detection of alarm pheromone produced by conspecifics. One of these, dropping from the feeding site to the ground, is potentially costly owing to the risk of desiccation-induced mortality on the ground before another host plant can be reached. Both dropping and walking from the feeding site incur a cost due to lost feeding opportunity. The aphids' decision as to which anti-predator tactic to use should be sensitive to the costs of their behaviour. Consequently, aphids should be less likely to drop when the risk of desiccation is higher, and less likely to drop or walk when the lost opportunity cost is higher. We tested these predictions by manipulating climatic severity (temperature and humidity) and host quality, respectively. As predicted, aphids are less likely to drop or walk in response to pheromone when feeding on high quality than on low quality hosts, and less likely to drop when the environment is hot and dry than when it is more benign. The latter is true whether the aphids are feeding on real or simulated leaves. Since all aphids were of the same clone, these results show that individual aphid genotypes possess the ability to adaptively modify their escape behaviour with changes in prevailing conditions. A number of other behavioural observations in the aphid literature may be interpreted in an economic or cost-benefit framework. The approach holds considerable promise for understanding many aspects of the anti-predator behaviour of aphids and other animals.