Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 41, Issue 10, pp 937–947 | Cite as

Effects of Terpene Chemotypes of Melaleuca alternifolia on Two Specialist Leaf Beetles and Susceptibility to Myrtle Rust

  • Carlos Bustos-Segura
  • Carsten Külheim
  • William Foley


Plant chemical polymorphisms, or plant chemotypes, are characterized by intraspecific discrete differences of plant secondary metabolites in the same plant tissue. Chemotypes that differ in foliar terpene composition are found commonly in Myrtaceae. In this study, we focused on terpene chemotypes of medicinal tea tree, Melalecua alternifolia, to explore whether this variation affects two specialist herbivores Paropsisterna tigrina and Faex sp. (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae), and if this could explain the maintenance of this variation. We tested whether insect performance, oviposition preference, and plant damage were associated with different chemotypes. We found that larval growth rate of Faex sp. was higher in chemotypes with high concentrations of 1,8-cineole, and that oviposition preference depended on the chemotype of the larval diet. Although performance traits and preference for oviposition of P. tigrina did not vary among chemotypes, adults inflicted less damage on plants with a high concentration of terpinolene. Additionally, we tested whether different chemotypes showed different levels of susceptibility by myrtle rust (Puccinia psidii). We found that plants with a high concentration of 1,8-cineole were more likely to be infected under controlled conditions. Although there is evidence that terpene chemotypes are a mediator of the interaction with natural enemies, the most detrimental pest of this plant, P. tigrina, does not seem to be affected by variation in plant terpenes.


Terpenoids Chemotype Chemical variation Melaleuca Herbivory Chrysomelidae Myrtle rust 



We thank Penny Gullan and Chris Reid for their invaluable help regarding insect collection methods and beetle taxonomic identification. Peter Entwistle and Jared Streich helped with beetle collection in the Northern Rivers. Thanks to Andras Keszei for helpful suggestions regarding experimental design, chemical analysis of terpenes, and chemotyping. We are grateful to Karanjeet Sandhu at the University of Sydney for performing the Myrtle rust infection tests. Thanks to Damien Esquerré for the beetles pictures and to Marta Vidal and Iliana Medina for helpful suggestions throughout the manuscript. Robert Dyason kindly provided access to his tea tree plantation. Thanks to two anonymous reviewers for improving the manuscript. CBS was funded by PhD scholarships from CONACYT and ANU. The work was supported by a grant from the Australian Research Council to WJF.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (DOCX 72 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlos Bustos-Segura
    • 1
  • Carsten Külheim
    • 1
  • William Foley
    • 1
  1. 1.Evolution, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of BiologyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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