, Volume 179, Issue 4, pp 1159–1171 | Cite as

Protection via parasitism: Datura odors attract parasitoid flies, which inhibit Manduca larvae from feeding and growing but may not help plants

Plant-microbe-animal interactions - Original research


Insect carnivores frequently use olfactory cues from plants to find prey or hosts. For plants, the benefits of attracting parasitoids have been controversial, partly because parasitoids often do not kill their host insect immediately. Furthermore, most research has focused on the effects of solitary parasitoids on growth and feeding of hosts, even though many parasitoids are gregarious (multiple siblings inhabit the same host). Here, we examine how a gregarious parasitoid, the tachinid fly Drino rhoeo, uses olfactory cues from the host plant Datura wrightii to find the sphingid herbivore Manduca sexta, and how parasitism affects growth and feeding of host larvae. In behavioral trials using a Y-olfactometer, female flies were attracted to olfactory cues emitted by attacked plants and by cues emitted from the frass produced by larval Manduca sexta. M. sexta caterpillars that were parasitized by D. rhoeo grew to lower maximum weights, grew more slowly, and ate less of their host plant. We also present an analytical model to predict how tri-trophic interactions change with varying herbivory levels, parasitization rates and plant sizes. This model predicted that smaller plants gain a relatively greater benefit compared to large plants in attracting D. rhoeo. By assessing the behavior, the effects of host performance, and the variation in ecological parameters of the system, we can better understand the complex interactions between herbivorous insects, the plants they live on and the third trophic level members that attack them.


Parasitoids Plant defense Volatiles Tachinids 



Thank you to Steve Lane, Nikita Cooley, Daniel Olson, Lauren Smith and two anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript. Thanks also to James O’Hara for identifying the tachinids we used and to Mike Singer for discussing early stages of this work and for suggesting the frass experiments. Finally, thanks to the director and staff at the Southwestern Research Station and to Erin McCullough, Emily Ding, Amanda Carrasco, Antoine Boussard and Valentina Giombini for help in the field. Thank you to Anna Sala for initial discussions and suggestions regarding the analytical model. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (IOS 0844916) to H.A.W. and the University of Montana.

Author contribution statement

JKW and HAW conceived and designed experiments. JKW carried out field work, JKW and HAW wrote the manuscript jointly.

Supplementary material

442_2015_3419_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (102 kb)
Supplemental Fig. 1 Maximum weight of unparasitized and parasitized fifth-instar M. sexta caterpillars plotted against their initial weight. Open triangles represent parasitized caterpillars and crosses represent unparasitized individuals. Trendlines for each group are from the best fit linear model (F 3,31 = 7.291, R 2 = 0.3638, p = 0.00082) dashed lines are from parasitized caterpillars, solid lines from unparasitized. (PDF 102 kb)
442_2015_3419_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (84 kb)
Supplemental Fig. 2 Modeled growth rate of parasitized caterpillars as a function of their parasitoid load. Growth rate was modeled by calculating the slope of line that best fit individual caterpillars’ growth curves (Fig. 2). There was no significant relationship between growth rate and the number of parasitoids (F 1,10 = 0.1459, R 2 = 0.01, p = 0.710). Fewer caterpillars are examined here than in other datasets because some caterpillars had fewer measurements of growth over time that gave erroneous values of modeled growth rates. These individuals were excluded from the analysis (PDF 83 kb)
442_2015_3419_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (92 kb)
Supplemental Fig. 3 Total frass production of parasitized caterpillars as a function of their parasitoid load. There was no significant relationship between growth rate and the number of parasitoids (F 1,12 = 0.0058, R 2 = 0.005, p = 0.9408).(PDF 91 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MontanaMissoulaUSA

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