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Herbivore-infested plants selectively attract parasitoids

Nature volume 393, pages 570573 (11 June 1998) | Download Citation



In response to insect herbivory, plants synthesize and emit blends of volatile compounds from their damaged and undamaged tissues, which act as important host-location cues for parasitic insects1,2,3. Here we use chemical and behavioural assays to show that these plant emissions can transmit herbivore-specific information that is detectable by parasitic wasps (parasitoids). Tobacco, cotton and maize plants each produce distinct volatile blends in response to damage by two closely related herbivore species, Heliothis virescens and Helicoverpa zea. The specialist parasitic wasp Cardiochiles nigriceps exploits these differences to distinguish infestation by its host, H. virescens, from that by H.zea. The production by phylogenetically diverse plant species and the exploitation by parasitoids of highly specific chemical signals, keyed to individual herbivore species, indicates that the interaction between plants and the natural enemies of the herbivores that attack them is more sophisticated than previously realized.

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We thank M. C. Mescher for assistance in preparing the manuscript; T. C. Turlings, P. J. Landolt, J. Garcia, B. Benrey, K. Ross, K. Korth and J. Ruberson for comments on the manuscript; A. T. Proveaux for assistance with mass spectrometric analysis; J. H. Loughrin for leaf measurement software; and T. Green for insect rearing. C.D.M. is recipient of fellowship from CAPES (Brazil).

Author information


  1. *Department of Entomology, University of Georgia, Coastal Plain Experiment Station, PO Box 748, Tifton, Georgia 31793, USA

    • C. M. De Moraes
  2. †USDA-ARS, IBPMRL, PO Box 748, Tifton, Georgia 31793, USA

    • W. J. Lewis
  3. ‡USDA-ARS, CMAVE, PO Box 14565, Gainesville, Florida 32604, USA

    • P. W. Paré
    • , H. T. Alborn
    •  & J. H. Tumlinson


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Correspondence to W. J. Lewis.

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