Tasty but Protected—First Evidence of Chemical Defense in Oribatid Mites
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Oribatid mites (Acari, Oribatida) represent one of the most abundant and speciose groups of microarthropods in the decomposer food webs of soils, but little is known of their top-down regulation by predators. Oribatids are relatively long-lived and have numerous morphological defensive adaptations, and so have been proposed to live in ‘enemy-free space’. Most also possess a pair of large exocrine oil glands that produce species-specific mixtures of hydrocarbons, terpenes, aromatics, and alkaloids with presumably allomonal functions, although their adaptive value has never been tested empirically. We developed a protocol that discharges the oil glands of the model oribatid species, Archegozetes longisetosus. and offered ‘disarmed’ individuals as prey to polyphagous Stenus beetles (Staphylinidae), using untreated mites as controls. Stenus juno fed on disarmed mites with behavioral sequences and success rates similar to those observed when they prey on springtails, a common prey. In contrast, mites from the control group with full glands were almost completely rejected; contact with the gland region elicited a strong reaction and cleaning behavior in the beetle. This is the first evidence of an adaptive value of oribatid mite oil gland secretions for chemical defense. The protocol of discharging oil glands should facilitate future studies on top-down control of oribatid mites that aim to differentiate between morphological and chemical aspects of defensive strategies.
Key WordsOribatida Archegozetes longisetosus Stenus juno Oil glands Enemy-free space
MH is funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG-Forschungsstipendium HE4593/3-1). GR was supported by the Austrian Science Funds (FWF), projects P18486-B16 and P21819-B16.
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