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Research article2018Peer reviewedOpen access

Common Practice Solvent Extraction Does not Reflect Actual Emission of a Sex Pheromone During Butterfly Courtship

Visser, Bertanne; Dublon, Ian A. N.; Heuskin, Stephanie; Laval, Florent; Bacquet, Paul M. B.; Lognay, Georges; Nieberding, Caroline M.


Olfactory communication can be of critical importance for mate choice decisions. Lepidoptera are key model systems for understanding olfactory communication, particularly considering sex pheromone signaling in the context of sexual selection. Solvent extraction or rinsing of pheromone-producing structures is a widespread method for quantifying sex pheromones, but such measures reflect what is stored and may not represent what is actually emitted by an individual during courtship. Here, we address this point for the first time by quantifying the components of the male sex pheromone (MSP) of interacting Bicyclus anynana butterflies, a species for which much information is available onthe role played by MSPs in affecting mating success. Using headspace sampling during courtship and solvent extraction after completion of experiments using the same males, we were able to track individual traits. Our results show that solvent extracts do not reflect quantities of MSP components emitted by live butterflies. We further show that MSP amounts obtained using headspace sampling correlated with male mating success, but solvent extracts did not. Our results further strongly suggest that males actively control MSP emission when faced with increased male-male competition. Common practice solvent extracts may thus not serve as an adequate proxy for male sex pheromone signaling as they are perceived by choosy females. Our study serves as a proof of principle that quantification of male sex pheromone components depends on the method of collection, which could apply to many other insects using short-range chemical signals. This affects our understanding of how sexual selection shapes the evolution of sexually-selected chemical traits.


tissue extraction; headspace extraction; Lepidoptera; chemical communication; female choice

Published in

Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
2018, Volume: 6, article number: 154

UKÄ Subject classification

Evolutionary Biology
Behavioral Sciences Biology

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