Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 27, Issue 12, pp 2505–2516

Sequestration of Host Plant Glucosinolates in the Defensive Hemolymph of the Sawfly Athalia rosae


  • Caroline Müller
    • Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological SciencesLeiden University
  • Niels Agerbirk
    • Chemistry DepartmentRoyal Veterinary and Agricultural University
  • Carl Erik Olsen
    • Chemistry DepartmentRoyal Veterinary and Agricultural University
  • Jean-Luc Boevé
    • Department of EntomologyRoyal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
  • Urs Schaffner
    • CABI-Bioscience Switzerland Centre
  • Paul M. Brakefield
    • Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological SciencesLeiden University

DOI: 10.1023/A:1013631616141

Cite this article as:
Müller, C., Agerbirk, N., Olsen, C.E. et al. J Chem Ecol (2001) 27: 2505. doi:10.1023/A:1013631616141


Interactions between insects and glucosinolate-containing plant species have been investigated for a long time. Although the glucosinolate–myrosinase system is believed to act as a defense mechanism against generalist herbivores and fungi, several specialist insects use these secondary metabolites for host plant finding and acceptance and can handle them physiologically. However, sequestration of glucosinolates in specialist herbivores has been less well studied. Larvae of the turnip sawfly Athalia rosae feed on several glucosinolate-containing plant species. When larvae are disturbed by antagonists, they release one or more small droplets of hemolymph from their integument. This “reflex bleeding” is used as a defense mechanism. Specific glucosinolate analysis, by conversion to desulfoglucosinolates and analysis of these by high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to diode array UV spectroscopy and mass spectrometry, revealed that larvae incorporate and concentrate the plant's characteristic glucosinolates from their hosts. Extracts of larvae that were reared on Sinapis alba contained sinalbin, even when the larvae were first starved for 22 hr and, thus, had empty guts. Hemolymph was analyzed from larvae that were reared on either S. alba, Brassica nigra, or Barbarea stricta. Leaves were analyzed from the same plants the larvae had fed on. Sinalbin (from S. alba), sinigrin (B. nigra), or glucobarbarin and glucobrassicin (B. stricta) were present in leaves in concentrations less than 1 μmol/g fresh weight, while the same glucosinolates could be detected in the larvae's hemolymph in concentrations between 10 and 31 μmol/g fresh weight, except that glucobrassicin was present only as a trace. In larval feces, only trace amounts of glucosinolates (sinalbin and sinigrin) could be detected. The glucosinolates were likewise found in freshly emerged adults, showing that the sequestered phytochemicals were transferred through the pupal stage.

Athalia rosaesawflyHymenopteraSinapis albaBarbarea strictaBrassica nigraBrassicaceaeglucosinolateshemolymphsequestration

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2001