, Volume 98, Issue 9, pp 731-738
Date: 08 Jul 2011

Avoiding incidental predation by mammalian herbivores: accurate detection and efficient response in aphids

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Abstract

Mammalian herbivores eat plants that may also provide food and shelter for insects. The direct trophic effect of the browsing and grazing of mammalian herbivory on insects, which is probably prevalent in terrestrial ecosystems, has been mostly neglected by ecologists. We examined how the aphid Uroleucon sonchi L. deals with the danger of incidental predation by mammalian herbivores. We found that most (76%) of the aphids in a colony survive the ingestion of the plant by a feeding herbivore. They do so by sensing the combination of heat and humidity in the herbivore’s breath and immediately dropping off the plant in large numbers. Their ability to sense the herbivore’s breath or their tendency to drop off the plant weakens as ambient temperature rises. This could indicate a limitation of the aphids’ sensory system or an adaptation that enables them to avoid the hostile conditions on a hot ground. Once on the ground, U. sonchi is highly mobile and capable of locating a new host plant by advancing in a pattern that differs significantly from random movement. The accurate and efficient defense mechanism of U. sonchi emphasizes the significance of incidental predation as a danger to plant-dwelling invertebrates.

Communicated by: Sven Thatje