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Birds Bug on Indirect Plant Defenses to Locate Insect Prey

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It has long been thought that most birds do not use volatile cues to perceive their environment. Aside from some scavenging birds, this large group of vertebrates was believed to mostly rely on highly developed vision while foraging and there are relatively few studies exploring bird response to volatile organic compounds. In response to insect herbivory, plants release volatile organic compounds to attract parasitoids and predators of the pests. To test if insectivorous birds use herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPV), dispensers emitting a synthetic blend of HIPV typically emitted after insect herbivory were deployed in a maize field along with imitation clay caterpillars. Significantly more imitation insects were attacked by birds when located close to dispensers releasing HIPV than close to dispenser with organic solvent only. Seven times more peck marks, an index of avian predation, were counted on caterpillars in the vicinity of the HIPV dispensers than on insects close to control dispensers. This is the first field demonstration that insectivorous birds cue on HIPV to locate prey in agricultural settings. These results support the growing evidence that foraging birds exploit volatile cues. This more accurate understanding of their behavior will be important when implementing pest management program involving insectivorous birds.

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We thank Scott Hopkins (Farm Manager, CANR, UD) for maintaining the Experimental Farm. We also thank Dr. Randy Wisser (Plant and Soil Science, CANR, UD) who lent us access to his maize field to conduct our experiments.

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Correspondence to Ivan Hiltpold.

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Hiltpold, I., Shriver, W.G. Birds Bug on Indirect Plant Defenses to Locate Insect Prey. J Chem Ecol 44, 576–579 (2018).

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