Host Sex Discrimination by an Egg Parasitoid on Brassica Leaves
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Egg parasitoids are able to find their hosts by exploiting their chemical footprints as host location cues. In nature, the apolar epicuticular wax layer of plants that consists of several classes of hydrocarbons serves as the substrate that retains these contact kairomones. However, experiments on chemical footprints generally have used filter paper as substrate to study insect behavior. Here, we explored the ability of Trissolcus basalis (Scelionidae) females to discriminate between footprint cues left by male and female Nezara viridula (Pentatomidae) on leaves of their host plant Brassica oleracea (broccoli). Furthermore, we analyzed the chemical composition of the outermost wax layer of broccoli leaves to evaluate the degree of overlap in insect and plant cuticular hydrocarbons that could lead to masking effects in the detection of footprint cues. Our results showed that B. oleracea epicuticular wax retains the chemical footprints of adult bugs and allows T. basalis females to differentiate hosts of different sex. Traces of female bugs elicited more extensive searching behavior in egg parasitoids than traces of males. The application of n-nonadecane, a compound specific to male N. viridula, on the tarsi of female bugs prevented parasitoid females from distinguishing between host male and host female footprints. Analyses of B. oleracea leaves revealed that epicuticular waxes were mainly composed of linear alkanes, ketones, and secondary alcohols. Alkanes were dominated by n-nonacosane (nC29) and n-hentriacontane (nC31), while male-specific n-nonadecane (nC19) was absent. The ecological significance of these results for parasitoid host location behavior is discussed.
Key WordsBrassica oleracea Nezara viridula Trissolcus basalis Host sex discrimination n-nonadecane Epicuticular waxes Cryo-method
We thank Mauro Lo Bue for assistance in the behavioral bioassays run at University of Palermo, Paolo Lucido for help in the collections of N. viridula from fields, Olga Frank for technical assistance with the GC analysis, and John Marris for constructive comments on the manuscript. The work was partially supported by the German DAAD and the Italian CRUI within the German-Italian bilateral program “VIGONI 2009”.
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