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Research article2013Peer reviewedOpen access

Specific response to herbivore-induced de novo synthesized plant volatiles provides reliable information for host plant selection in a moth

Zakir, Ali; Sadek, Medhat; Hansson, Bill; Witzgall, Peter; Anderson, Peter; Bengtsson, Marie


Animals depend on reliable sensory information for accurate behavioural decisions. For herbivorous insects it is crucial to find host plants for feeding and reproduction, and these insects must be able to differentiate suitable from unsuitable plants. Volatiles are important cues for insect herbivores to assess host plant quality. It has previously been shown that female moths of the Egyptian cotton leafworm, Spodoptera littoralis (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), avoid oviposition on damaged cotton Gossypium hirsutum, which may mediated by herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs). Among the HIPVs, some volatiles are released following any type of damage while others are synthesized de novo and released by the plants only in response to herbivore damage. In behavioural experiments we here show that oviposition by S. littoralis on undamaged cotton plants was reduced by adding volatiles collected from plants with ongoing herbivory. Gas chromatography–electroantennographic detection (GC–EAD) recordings revealed that antennae of mated S. littoralis females responded to 18 compounds from a collection of headspace volatiles of damaged cotton plants. Among these compounds, a blend of the seven de novo synthesized volatile compounds was found to reduce oviposition in S. littoralis on undamaged plants under both laboratory and ambient (field) conditions in Egypt. Volatile compounds that are not produced de novo by the plants did not affect oviposition. Our results show that ovipositing females respond specifically to the de novo synthesized volatiles released from plants under herbivore attack. We suggest that these volatiles provide reliable cues for ovipositing females to detect plants that could provide reduced quality food for their offspring and an increased risk of competition and predation.

Published in

Journal of Experimental Biology
2013, Volume: 216, number: 17, pages: 3257-3263