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Herbivore-infested plants selectively attract parasitoids


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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Figure 1: Field-flight responses of Cardiochiles nigriceps females to infested tobacco or cotton plants.
Figure 2: Volatiles released from tobacco plants after 48 h of feeding by H. virescens or H. zea compared with undamaged controls.
Figure 3: Chromatographic profiles of volatiles from cotton after 24 h of feeding byH. virescens or H. zea compared with undamaged controls.
Figure 4: Volatiles collected from maize seedlings (Zea mays, strain LG11) fed on for 24 h by H. virescens or H. zea or from undamaged control plants.


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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).

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Correspondence to W. J. Lewis.

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De Moraes, C., Lewis, W., Paré, P. et al. Herbivore-infested plants selectively attract parasitoids. Nature 393, 570–573 (1998).

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