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Insectivorous Birds Are Attracted by Plant Traits Induced by Insect Egg Deposition

Abstract

Insectivorous birds feed upon all developmental stages of herbivorous insects, including insect eggs if larvae and adults are unavailable. Insect egg deposition on plants can induce plant traits that are subsequently exploited by egg parasitoids searching for hosts. However, it is unknown whether avian predators can also use egg-induced plant changes for prey localization. Here, we studied whether great tits (Parus major) and blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) are attracted by traits of the Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) induced by pine sawfly (Diprion pini) egg deposition. We chose this plant – insect system because sawfly egg deposition on pine needles is known to locally and systemically induce a change in pine volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and tits are known to prey upon sawfly eggs. In dual choice laboratory experiments, we simultaneously offered the birds an egg-free control branch and a systemically egg-induced branch. Significantly more birds visited the egg-induced branch first. We confirmed by GC-MS analyses that systemically egg-induced branches released more (E)-β-farnesene compared to control branches. Spectrophotometric analyses showed that control branches reflected more light than egg-induced branches throughout the avian visual range. Although a discrimination threshold model for blue tits suggests that the birds are poor at discriminating this visual difference, the role of visual stimuli in attracting the birds to egg-induced pines cannot be discounted. Our study shows, for the first time, that egg-induced odorous and/or visual plant traits can help birds to locate insect eggs without smelling or seeing those eggs.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Ute Braun, Freie Universität Berlin, for her help in rearing the sawflies and collecting pine branches. We also thank Prof. Dr. Holger Dau and Dr. Ivelina Zaharieva from the Physics Department, Freie Universität Berlin, for assistance with the spectrophotometer. The study was supported financially by the Finnish Cultural Foundation (grant to EM), the ERC grant no 669609 (EM) and the Academy of Finland via the project no 257581 (CL).

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Correspondence to Elina Mäntylä.

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The birds were studied with a license from Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales, Berlin (no. 0149/12), and ringed with a license from Vogelwarte Radolfzell (no. 1882). The experimental procedure never caused damage or signs of severe distress to the birds. All birds were released back into the wild, close to their place of capture, immediately after the experiment. The time in captivity for each bird was 40.0 (31.0, 54.0) minutes [median (lower quartile, upper quartile)].

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Mäntylä, E., Kleier, S., Lindstedt, C. et al. Insectivorous Birds Are Attracted by Plant Traits Induced by Insect Egg Deposition. J Chem Ecol 44, 1127–1138 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-018-1034-1

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Keywords

  • Insect egg deposition
  • Light reflectance
  • Olfaction
  • Terpenoids
  • Vision
  • Volatile organic compounds