Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 43, Issue 10, pp 1007–1022 | Cite as

Response of a Predatory ant to Volatiles Emitted by Aphid- and Caterpillar-Infested Cucumber and Potato Plants

  • Mauro Schettino
  • Donato A. Grasso
  • Berhane T. Weldegergis
  • Cristina Castracani
  • Alessandra Mori
  • Marcel Dicke
  • Joop C. Van Lenteren
  • Joop J. A. Van Loon


In response to herbivory by insects, various plants produce volatiles that attract enemies of the herbivores. Although ants are important components of natural and agro-ecosystems, the importance of herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) as cues for ants for finding food sources have received little attention. We investigated responses of the ant Formica pratensis to volatiles emitted by uninfested and insect-infested cucumber (Cucumis sativus) and potato (Solanum tuberosum) plants. Cucumber plants were infested by the phloem-feeding aphid Aphis gossypii, the leaf chewer Mamestra brassicae or simultaneously by both insects. Potato plants were infested by either Aphis gossypii, by the leaf chewer Chrysodeixis chalcites or both. In olfactometer experiments, ants preferred volatile blends emitted by cucumber plants infested with M. brassicae caterpillars alone or combined with A. gossypii to volatiles of undamaged plants or plants damaged by A. gossypii only. No preference was recorded in choice tests between volatiles released by aphid-infested plants over undamaged plants. Volatiles emitted by potato plants infested by either C. chalcites or A. gossypii were preferred by ants over volatiles released by undamaged plants. Ants did not discriminate between potato plants infested with aphids and caterpillars over plants infested with aphids only. Plant headspace composition showed qualitative and/or quantitative differences between herbivore treatments. Multivariate analysis revealed clear separation between uninfested and infested plants and among herbivore treatments. The importance of HIPVs in indirect plant defence by ants is discussed in the context of the ecology of ant-plant interactions and possible roles of ants in pest management.


Tritrophic interactions Ant-plant interactions Herbivore-induced plant volatiles Infochemicals GC-MS analysis Behavioural response Herbivory Plant defence Indirect defence 



We thank Jeroen van Schelt of Koppert B.V., Berkel en Rodenrijs, The Netherlands and Joke van Elven of Rijk Zwaan B.V., De Lier, The Netherlands for providing us with insects, Unifarm of Wageningen University and Research for growing the plants, Ron Felix for showing us where to collect ants and Dani Lucas-Barbosa for advice. We are also grateful to the anonymous Reviewers for their valuable suggestions and comments on the manuscript.


This study was funded with grants by University of Parma (FIL 2014–2015) assigned to DA Grasso.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

Experiments were performed in accordance with relevant guidelines and regulations on studies on live animals.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mauro Schettino
    • 1
  • Donato A. Grasso
    • 1
  • Berhane T. Weldegergis
    • 2
  • Cristina Castracani
    • 1
  • Alessandra Mori
    • 1
  • Marcel Dicke
    • 2
  • Joop C. Van Lenteren
    • 2
  • Joop J. A. Van Loon
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Chemistry, Life Sciences and Environmental SustainabilityUniversity of ParmaParmaItaly
  2. 2.Laboratory of EntomologyWageningen University and ResearchWageningenThe Netherlands

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