Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 31, Issue 9, pp 2003–2018 | Cite as

The Role of Fresh versus Old Leaf Damage in the Attraction of Parasitic Wasps to Herbivore-Induced Maize Volatiles



The odor produced by a plant under herbivore attack is often used by parasitic wasps to locate hosts. Any type of surface damage commonly causes plant leaves to release so-called green leaf volatiles, whereas blends of inducible compounds are more specific for herbivore attack and can vary considerably among plant genotypes. We compared the responses of naïve and experienced parasitoids of the species Cotesia marginiventris and Microplitis rufiventris to volatiles from maize leaves with fresh damage (mainly green leaf volatiles) vs. old damage (mainly terpenoids) in a six-arm olfactometer. These braconid wasps are both solitary endoparasitoids of lepidopteran larvae, but differ in geographical origin and host range. In choice experiments with odor blends from maize plants with fresh damage vs. blends from plants with old damage, inexperienced C. marginiventris showed a preference for the volatiles from freshly damaged leaves. No such preference was observed for inexperienced M. rufiventris. After an oviposition experience in hosts feeding on maize plants, C. marginiventris females were more attracted by a mixture of volatiles from fresh and old damage. Apparently, C. marginiventris has an innate preference for the odor of freshly damaged leaves, and this preference shifts in favor of a blend containing a mixture of green leaf volatiles plus terpenoids, after experiencing the latter blend in association with hosts. M. rufiventris responded poorly after experience and preferred fresh damage odors. Possibly, after associative learning, this species uses cues that are more directly related with the host presence, such as volatiles from host feces, which were not present in the odor sources offered in the olfactometer. The results demonstrate the complexity of the use of plant volatiles by parasitoids and show that different parasitoid species have evolved different strategies to exploit these signals.

Key Words

Cotesia marginiventris Microplitis rufiventris Spodoptera littoralis Zea mays parasitoid innate preference associative learning induced volatiles green leaf volatiles terpenoids host location 



We thank Liselore Roelfstra and Yves Borcard for parasitoid rearing. Parasitoids with which we started our lab colonies were supplied by Donald Nordlund (C. marginiventris) and Esmat Hegazi (M. rufiventris). We also thank Syngenta (Stein, Switzerland) for the weekly shipment of Spodoptera littoralis eggs and caterpillars. Alex Aebi, Louis Felix Bersier, Marco D’Alessandro, Thomas Degen, Martine Rahier, and Cristina Tamò contributed with stimulating discussions and/or comments on the initial manuscript. We are grateful to Matthias Held, Ingrid Ricard, and Anthony Davison for the log-linear model construction and help with statistical analyses. This study was supported by grants from the Swiss Centre of International Agriculture (ZIL, ETH Zurich) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (grants 31-46237-95 and 31-44459-95).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Plant SciencesUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Entomology, Institute of ZoologyUniversity of NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland

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