, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 169-175

Preference for high concentrations of plant pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the specialist arctiid moth Utetheisa ornatrix depends on previous experience

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Abstract

Secondary metabolites are one the most pervasive defensive mechanisms in plants. Many specialist herbivores have evolved adaptations to overcome these defensive compounds. Some herbivores can even take advantage of these compounds by sequestering them for protection and/or mate attraction. One of the most studied specialist insects that sequesters secondary metabolites is the arctiid moth Utetheisa ornatrix. This species sequesters pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) from its host plant, the legume Crotalaria spp. The sequestered PAs are used as a predator repellent and as a mating pheromone. We used this species to test larval preference for different concentrations of PAs. We purified PAs from plant material and added them at different concentrations to an artificial diet. Larvae of U. ornatrix previously feeding on low and high PA concentration artificial diets were allowed to choose between two new artificial diets with different PA concentrations. The amount of PAs sequestered and larval preference were dependent on their previous exposure to low or high PA content in the diet. Larvae that were pretreated with a low PA diet significantly consumed more diet with the high PA concentration, while larvae that were pretreated with a high PA diet showed no discrimination between future feeding of different PA concentration diets. We discuss our results using mechanistic and evolutionary approaches. Finally, we discuss how these results have important implications on the evolution of plant herbivore interactions and how specialist herbivores may decrease the levels of chemical defenses on plant populations.

Handling Editors: Yvan Rahbe and Heikki Hokkanen.