, Volume 31, Issue 12, pp 2857-2876
Date: 18 Dec 2005

Chemically Mediated Host-Plant Selection by the Milfoil Weevil: A Freshwater Insect–Plant Interaction

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The milfoil weevil Euhrychiopsis lecontei is a specialist aquatic herbivore that feeds, oviposits, and mates on the invasive freshwater macrophyte Myriophyllum spicatum. We characterized the weevil's preference for M. spicatum, and through bioassay-driven fractionation, isolated and identified two chemicals released by M. spicatum that attract E. lecontei. Mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy were used to identify the attractive compounds as glycerol and uracil. Dose-response curves for glycerol and uracil indicated that weevil preference increased as sample concentration increased. Weevils were attracted to a crude sample of M. spicatum-released chemicals from 0.17 to 17 mg/l, to glycerol from 18 to 1800 μM (0.0017–0.17 mg/l), and to uracil from 0.015 to 15 μM (0.00014–1.4 mg/l). Although glycerol and uracil are ubiquitous, weevils are likely responding to high concentrations that are released as a result of the rapid growth of M. spicatum. Uracil concentration was greater in the exudates of M.spicatum than other Myriophyllum spp. E. lecontei was attracted to glycerol at a concentration similar to that at which terrestrial insects are attracted to sugar alcohols. This is the first example of a freshwater specialist insect being attracted to chemicals released by its host plant. Analysis of the water milfoil–weevil interaction provides further understanding as to how insects locate their host plants in aquatic systems.