Host plant choice is of vital importance for egg laying herbivorous insects that do not exhibit brood care. Several aspects, including palatability, nutritional quality and predation risk, have been found to modulate host preference. Olfactory cues are thought to enable host location. However, experimental data on odor features that allow choosing among alternative hosts while still in flight are not available. It has previously been shown that M. sexta females prefer Datura wrightii compared to Nicotiana attenuata. The bouquet of the latter is more intense and contains compounds typically emitted by plants after feeding-damage to attract the herbivore’s enemies. In this wind tunnel study, we offered female gravid hawkmoths (Manduca sexta) odors from these two ecologically relevant, attractive, non-flowering host species. M. sexta females preferred surrogate leaves scented with vegetative odors form both host species to unscented control leaves. Given a choice between species, females preferred the odor bouquet emitted by D. wrightii to that of N. attenuata. Harmonizing, i.e. adjusting, volatile intensity to similar levels did not abolish but significantly weakened this preference. Superimposing, i.e. mixing, the highly attractive headspaces of both species, however, abolished discrimination between scented and non-scented surrogate leaves. Beyond ascertaining the role of blend composition in host plant choice, our results raise the following hypotheses. (i) The odor of a host species is perceived as a discrete odor ‘Gestalt’, and its core properties are lost upon mixing two attractive scents (ii). Stimulus intensity is a secondary feature affecting olfactory-based host choice (iii). Constitutively smelling like a plant that is attracting herbivore enemies may be part of a plant’s strategy to avoid herbivory where alternative hosts are available to the herbivore.
The pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum Harris), a legume specialist, encompasses at least 11 genetically distinct sympatric host races. Each host race shows a preference for a certain legume species. Six pea aphid clones from three host races were used to localize plant factors influencing aphid probing and feeding behavior on four legume species. Aphid performance was tested by measuring survival and growth. The location of plant factors influencing aphid probing and feeding was determined using the electrical penetration graph (EPG) technique. Every aphid clone performed best on the plant species from which it was originally collected, as well as on Vicia faba. On other plant species, clones showed intermediate or poor performance. The most important plant factors influencing aphid probing and feeding behavior were localized in the epidermis and sieve elements. Repetitive puncturing of sieve elements might be relevant for establishing phloem feeding, since feeding periods appear nearly exclusively after these repetitive sieve element punctures. A combination of plant factors influences the behavior of pea aphid host races on different legume species and likely contributes to the maintenance of these races.
Insects pinpoint mates, food and oviposition sites by olfactory cues. Recognizing and localizing a suitable target by olfaction is demanding. Odor sources emit characteristic blends of compounds that have to be identified against an environmentally derived olfactory background. This background, however, does not necessarily disturb the localization of a source. Rather, the contrary. Sex pheromones become more attractive to male moths when being presented against a relevant plant background. Here we asked whether such olfactory coaction also characterizes foraging cues. The tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta feeds on nectar from wild tobacco Nicotiana attenuata and sacred datura Datura wrightii flowers. We tested how leaf-derived volatile blends as a background affect the moths' approach to flower blends. We found coaction when a flower blend was presented against a conspecific leaf volatile background but not when the blend was presented against volatiles emitted by the other host plant or by a non-host plant. Hence, our results reveal a species-specific coaction between flower blend and leaf volatile background. The ability to integrate information from different odor sources on one plant might provide the moth with a fine-grained analysis of food site quality.
Global atmospheric change is influencing the quality of plants as a resource for herbivores. We investigated the impacts of elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) and ozone (O3) on the phytochemistry of two forbs, Solidago canadensis and Taraxacum officinale, and the subsequent feeding behavior and growth performance of weanling prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) feeding on those plants. Plants for the chemical analyses and feeding trials were harvested from the understory of control (ambient air), elevated CO2 (560 µl CO2 l−1), and elevated O3 (ambient × 1.5) rings at the Aspen FACE (Free Air CO2 Enrichment) site near Rhinelander, Wisconsin. We assigned individual voles to receive plants from only one FACE ring and recorded plant consumption and weanling body mass for seven days. Elevated CO2 and O3 altered the foliar chemistry of both forbs, but only female weanling voles on the O3 diet showed negative responses to these changes. Elevated CO2 increased the fiber fractions of both plant species, whereas O3 fumigation elicited strong responses among many phytochemical components, most notably increasing the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio by 40% and decreasing N by 26%. Consumption did not differ between plant species or among fumigation treatments. Male voles were unaffected by the fumigation treatments, whereas female voles grew 36% less than controls when fed O3-grown plants. These results demonstrate that global atmospheric change has the potential to affect the performance of a mammalian herbivore through changes in plant chemistry.
A large number of insect chemosensory genes from different gene subfamilies have been identified and annotated, but their functional diversity and complexity are largely unknown. A systemic examination of expression patterns in chemosensory organs could provide important information.
We identified 92 putative chemosensory genes by analysing the transcriptome of the antennae and female sex pheromone gland of the purple stem borer Sesamia inferens, among them 87 are novel in this species, including 24 transcripts encoding for odorant binding proteins (OBPs), 24 for chemosensory proteins (CSPs), 2 for sensory neuron membrane proteins (SNMPs), 39 for odorant receptors (ORs) and 3 for ionotropic receptors (IRs). The transcriptome analyses were validated and quantified with a detailed global expression profiling by Reverse Transcription-PCR for all 92 transcripts and by Quantitative Real Time RT-PCR for selected 16 ones. Among the chemosensory gene subfamilies, CSP transcripts are most widely and evenly expressed in different tissues and stages, OBP transcripts showed a clear antenna bias and most of OR transcripts are only detected in adult antennae. Our results also revealed that some OR transcripts, such as the transcripts of SNMP2 and 2 IRs were expressed in non-chemosensory tissues, and some CSP transcripts were antenna-biased expression. Furthermore, no chemosensory transcript is specific to female sex pheromone gland and very few are found in the heads.
Our study revealed that there are a large number of chemosensory genes expressed in S. inferens, and some of them displayed unusual expression profile in non-chemosensory tissues. The identification of a large set of putative chemosensory genes of each subfamily from a single insect species, together with their different expression profiles provide further information in understanding the functions of these chemosensory genes in S. inferens as well as other insects.
The relative proportions of components in a pheromone blend play a major role in sexual recognition in moths. Two sympatric species, Helicoverpa armigera and Helicoverpa assulta, use (Z)-11-hexadecenal (Z11–16: Ald) and (Z)-9-hexadecenal (Z9–16: Ald) as essential sex pheromone components but in very different ratios, 97∶3 and 7∶93 respectively. Using wind tunnel tests, single sensillum recording and in vivo calcium imaging, we comparatively studied behavioral responses and physiological activities at the level of antennal sensilla and antennal lobe (AL) in males of the two species to blends of the two pheromone components in different ratios (100∶0, 97∶3, 50∶50, 7∶93, 0∶100). Z11–16: Ald and Z9–16: Ald were recognized by two populations of olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) in different trichoid sensilla on antennae of both species. The ratios of OSNs responding to Z11–16:Ald and Z9–16:Ald OSNs were 100∶28.9 and 21.9∶100 in H. armigera and H. assulta, respectively. The Z11–16:Ald OSNs in H. armigera exhibited higher sensitivity and efficacy than those in H. assulta, while the Z9–16:Ald OSNs in H. armigera had the same sensitivity but lower efficacy than those in H. assulta. At the dosage of 10 µg, Z11–16: Ald and Z9–16: Ald evoked calcium activity in 8.5% and 3.0% of the AL surface in H. armigera, while 5.4% and 8.6% of AL in H. assulta, respectively. The calcium activities in the AL reflected the peripheral input signals of the binary pheromone mixtures and correlated with the behavioral output. These results demonstrate that the binary pheromone blends were precisely coded by the firing frequency of individual OSNs tuned to Z11–16: Ald or Z9–16: Ald, as well as their population sizes. Such information was then accurately reported to ALs of H. armigera and H. assulta, eventually producing different behaviors.
Multitrophic interactions are likely to be altered by climate change but there is little empirical evidence relating the responses of herbivores and parasitoids to abiotic factors. Here we investigated the effects of drought on an above/below-ground system comprising a generalist and a specialist aphid species (foliar herbivores), their parasitoids, and a dipteran species (root herbivore).We tested the hypotheses that: (1) high levels of drought stress and below-ground herbivory interact to reduce the performance of parasitoids developing in aphids; (2) drought stress and root herbivory change the profile of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) emitted by the host plant; (3) parasitoids avoid ovipositing in aphids feeding on plants under drought stress and root herbivory. We examined the effect of drought, with and without root herbivory, on the olfactory response of parasitoids (preference), plant volatile emissions, parasitism success (performance), and the effect of drought on root herbivory. Under drought, percentage parasitism of aphids was reduced by about 40–55% compared with well watered plants. There was a significant interaction between drought and root herbivory on the efficacy of the two parasitoid species, drought stress partially reversing the negative effect of root herbivory on percent parasitism. In the absence of drought, root herbivory significantly reduced the performance (e.g. fecundity) of both parasitoid species developing in foliar herbivores. Plant emissions of VOCs were reduced by drought and root herbivores, and in olfactometer experiments parasitoids preferred the odour from well-watered plants compared with other treatments. The present work demonstrates that drought stress can change the outcome of interactions between herbivores feeding above- and below-ground and their parasitoids, mediated by changes in the chemical signals from plants to parasitoids. This provides a new insight into how the structure of terrestrial communities may be affected by drought.
A sulphate-conjugated bile alcohol, 3,12-diketo-4,6-petromyzonene-24-sulfate (DKPES), was identified using bioassay-guided fractionation from water conditioned with sexually mature male sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus). The structure and relative stereochemistry of DKPES was established using spectroscopic data. The electro-olfactogram (EOG) response threshold of DKPES was 10−7 Molar (M) and that of 3-keto petromyzonol sulfate (3 KPZS; a known component of the male sea lamprey sex pheromone) was 10−10 M. Behavioural studies indicated that DKPES can be detected at low concentrations by attracting sexually mature females to nests when combined with 3 KPZS. Nests baited with a mixture of DKPES and 3 KPZS (ratio 1∶29.8) attracted equal numbers of sexually mature females compared to an adjacent nest baited with 3 KPZS alone. When DKPES and 3 KPZS mixtures were applied at ratios of 2∶29.8 and 10∶29.8, the proportion of sexually mature females that entered baited nests increased to 73% and 70%, respectively. None of the sexually mature females released were attracted to nests baited with DKPES alone. These results indicated that DKPES is a component of the sex pheromone released by sexually mature male sea lamprey, and is the second biologically active compound identified from this pheromone. DKPES represents the first example that a minor component of a vertebrate pheromone can be combined with a major component to elicit critical sexual behaviors. DKPES holds considerable promise for increasing the effectiveness of pheromone-baited trapping as a means of sea lamprey control in the Laurentian Great Lakes.
The multicolored Asian ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis (Pallas), aggregates inside dwellings during the winter to survive the cold. Recent published reports have highlighted that overwintering individuals use hydrocarbon markings deposited on surfaces by conspecifics to orient toward aggregation sites. In the current study, monthly GC-MS analyses revealed seasonal modifications in the chemical profile of substrate markings deposited by moving individuals. The markings of overwintering ladybeetles contained larger proportions of heptacosadiene, nonacosadiene, hentriacontadienes, and methyl-nonacosanes, along with a lower proportion of heptacosene and nonacosene. This finding suggests the importance of the unsaturated and/or branched hydrocarbons in the H. axyridis aggregation process. Subsequently, we conducted behavioral assays to test whether (1) there is seasonal variation in the behavioral response of H. axyridis individuals toward substrate markings deposited by conspecifics in the same physiological state and (2) the observed behavioral modification is due to a change in ladybeetle sensitivity and/or a change in the chemical composition of the substrate marking. The results indicate that overwintering individuals exhibit a stronger “following” response toward conspecific substrate markings. This behavior is linked to both the physiological state of ladybeetles and the specific chemical profile of the marking biomolecules deposited under overwintering conditions.
Behavioural responses of animals to volatiles in their environment are generally dependent on context. Most natural odours are mixtures of components that can each induce different behaviours when presented on their own. We have investigated how a complex of two olfactory stimuli is evaluated by Drosophila flies in a free-flying two-trap choice assay and how these stimuli are encoded in olfactory receptor neurons. We first observed that volatiles from apple cider vinegar attracted flies while carbon dioxide (CO2) was avoided, confirming their inherent positive and negative values. In contradiction with previous results obtained from walking flies in a four-field olfactometer, in the present assay the addition of CO2 to vinegar increased rather than decreased the attractiveness of vinegar. This effect was female-specific even though males and females responded similarly to CO2 and vinegar on their own. To test whether the female-specific behavioural response to the mixture correlated with a sexual dimorphism at the peripheral level we recorded from olfactory receptor neurons stimulated with vinegar, CO2 and their combination. Responses to vinegar were obtained from three neuron classes, two of them housed with the CO2-responsive neuron in ab1 sensilla. Sensitivity of these neurons to both CO2 and vinegar per se did not differ between males and females and responses from female neurons did not change when CO2 and vinegar were presented simultaneously. We also found that CO2-sensitive neurons are particularly well adapted to respond rapidly to small concentration changes irrespective of background CO2 levels. The ability to encode temporal properties of stimulations differs considerably between CO2- and vinegar-sensitive neurons. These properties may have important implications for in-flight navigation when rapid responses to fragmented odour plumes are crucial to locate odour sources. However, the flies’ sex-specific response to the CO2-vinegar combination and the context-dependent hedonics most likely originate from central rather than peripheral processing.
The navel orangeworm, Amyelois transitella is a major agricultural pest causing large losses in a variety of tree crops. Control of this insect pest may be achieved by interfering with olfactory pathways to block detection of female-produced sex pheromones and consequently, disrupt mating. The first component of this pathway is the pheromone-binding protein AtraPBP1, which recognizes the pheromone and presents it to the odorant receptor housed in a sensory neuron of the male antennae. Release of the ligand depends on a pH-induced conformational change associated with the acidity of the membrane surface. To characterize this conformational change and to understand how pheromones bind, we have determined the high resolution crystal structures of AtraPBP1 in complex with two main constituents of the sex pheromone, i.e., (11Z,13Z)-hexadecadienal and (11Z,13Z)-hexadecadienol. Comparison with the structure of the unliganded form demonstrates a large ∼90° movement of the C-terminal helix which is observed in other pheromone- or odorant-binding proteins accompanied by an unpredicted 37° displacement of the N-terminal helix. Molecular dynamic trajectories suggest that the conformational change of the α1 helix facilitates the movement of the C-terminal helix.
Young and adult mammals are constantly exposed to chemically complex stimuli. The olfactory system allows for a dual processing of relevant information from the environment either as single odorants in mixtures (elemental perception) or as mixtures of odorants as a whole (configural perception). However, it seems that human adults have certain limits in elemental perception of odor mixtures, as suggested by their inability to identify each odorant in mixtures of more than 4 components. Here, we explored some of these limits by evaluating the perception of three 6-odorant mixtures in human adults and newborn rabbits. Using free-sorting tasks in humans, we investigated the configural or elemental perception of these mixtures, or of 5-component sub-mixtures, or of the 6-odorant mixtures with modified odorants' proportion. In rabbit pups, the perception of the same mixtures was evaluated by measuring the orocephalic sucking response to the mixtures or their components after conditioning to one of these stimuli. The results revealed that one mixture, previously shown to carry the specific odor of red cordial in humans, was indeed configurally processed in humans and in rabbits while the two other 6-component mixtures were not. Moreover, in both species, such configural perception was specific not only to the 6 odorants included in the mixture but also to their respective proportion. Interestingly, rabbit neonates also responded to each odorant after conditioning to the red cordial mixture, which demonstrates their ability to perceive elements in addition to configuration in this complex mixture. Taken together, the results provide new insights related to the processing of relatively complex odor mixtures in mammals and the inter-species conservation of certain perceptual mechanisms; the results also revealed some differences in the expression of these capacities between species putatively linked to developmental and ecological constraints.
Many animals rely on chemical cues to recognize and locate a resource, and they must extract the relevant information from a complex and changing odor environment. For example, in moths, finding a mate is mediated by a sex pheromone, which is detected in a rich environment of volatile plant compounds. Here, we investigated the effects of a volatile plant background on the walking response of male Spodoptera littoralis to the female pheromone. Males were stimulated by combining pheromone with one of three plant compounds, and their walking paths were recorded with a locomotion compensator and analyzed. We found that the addition of certain volatile plant compounds disturbed the orientation toward the sex pheromone. The effect on locomotion was correlated with the capacity of the plant compound to antagonize pheromone detection by olfactory receptor neurons, suggesting a masking effect of the background over the pheromone signal. Moths were more sensitive to changes in background compared to a constant background, suggesting that a background odor also acts as a distracting stimulus. Our experiments show that the effects of odorant background on insect responses to chemical signals are complex and cannot be explained by a single mechanism.
Our understanding of insect chemical communication including pheromone identification, synthesis, and their role in behavior has advanced tremendously over the last half-century. However, endocrine regulation of pheromone biosynthesis has progressed slowly due to the complexity of direct and/or indirect hormonal activation of the biosynthetic cascades resulting in insect pheromones. Over 20 years ago, a neurohormone, pheromone biosynthesis activating neuropeptide (PBAN) was identified that stimulated sex pheromone biosynthesis in a lepidopteran moth. Since then, the physiological role, target site, and signal transduction of PBAN has become well understood for sex pheromone biosynthesis in moths. Despite that PBAN-like peptides (∼200) have been identified from various insect Orders, their role in pheromone regulation had not expanded to the other insect groups except for Lepidoptera. Here, we report that trail pheromone biosynthesis in the Dufour's gland (DG) of the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, is regulated by PBAN. RNAi knock down of PBAN gene (in subesophageal ganglia) or PBAN receptor gene (in DG) expression inhibited trail pheromone biosynthesis. Reduced trail pheromone was documented analytically and through a behavioral bioassay. Extension of PBAN's role in pheromone biosynthesis to a new target insect, mode of action, and behavioral function will renew research efforts on the involvement of PBAN in pheromone biosynthesis in Insecta.
Infochemical production, release and detection of (Z,E)-9,11-tetradecadienyl acetate, the major component of the pheromone of the moth Spodoptera littoralis, is achieved in a novel microfluidic system designed to mimic the final step of the pheromone biosynthesis by immobilized recombinant alcohol acetyl transferase. The microfluidic system is part of an “artificial gland”, i.e., a chemoemitter that comprises a microreactor connected to a microevaporator and is able to produce and release a pre-defined amount of the major component of the pheromone from the corresponding (Z,E)-9,11-tetradecadienol. Performance of the entire chemoemitter has been assessed in electrophysiological and behavioral experiments. Electroantennographic depolarizations of the pheromone produced by the chemoemitter were ca. 40% relative to that evoked by the synthetic pheromone. In a wind tunnel, the pheromone released from the evaporator elicited on males a similar attraction behavior as 3 virgin females in most of the parameters considered.
The Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) is recognized as one of the world's most damaging invasive species. One reason for the ecological dominance of introduced Argentine ant populations is their ability to dominate food and habitat resources through the rapid mobilization and recruitment of thousands of workers. More than 30 years ago, studies showed that (Z)-9-hexadecenal strongly attracted Argentine ant workers in a multi-choice olfactometer, suggesting that (Z)-9-hexadecenal might be the trail pheromone, or a component of a trail pheromone mixture. Since then, numerous studies have considered (Z)-9-hexadecenal as the key component of the Argentine ant trails. Here, we report the first chemical analyses of the trails laid by living Argentine ants and find that (Z)-9-hexadecenal is not present in a detectible quantity. Instead, two iridoids, dolichodial and iridomyrmecin, appear to be the primary chemical constituents of the trails. Laboratory choice tests confirmed that Argentine ants were attracted to artificial trails comprised of these two chemicals significantly more often than control trails. Although (Z)-9-hexadecenal was not detected in natural trails, supplementation of artificial dolichodial+iridomyrmecin trails with an extremely low concentraion of (Z)-9-hexadecenal did increase the efficacy of the trail-following behavior. In stark contrast with previous dogma, our study suggests that dolichodial and iridomyrmecin are major components of the Argentine ant trail pheromone. (Z)-9-hexadecenal may act in an additive manner with these iridoids, but it does not occur in detectable quantities in Argentine ant recruitment trails.
During blood-sucking, female members of the family Tabanidae transmit pathogens of serious diseases and annoy their host animals so strongly that they cannot graze, thus the health of the hosts is drastically reduced. Consequently, a tabanid-resistant coat with appropriate brightness, colour and pattern is advantageous for the host. Spotty coats are widespread among mammals, especially in cattle (Bos primigenius). In field experiments we studied the influence of the size and number of spots on the attractiveness of test surfaces to tabanids that are attracted to linearly polarized light. We measured the reflection-polarization characteristics of living cattle, spotty cattle coats and the used test surfaces. We show here that the smaller and the more numerous the spots, the less attractive the target (host) is to tabanids. We demonstrate that the attractiveness of spotty patterns to tabanids is also reduced if the target exhibits spottiness only in the angle of polarization pattern, while being homogeneous grey with a constant high degree of polarization. Tabanid flies respond strongly to linearly polarized light, and we show that bright and dark parts of cattle coats reflect light with different degrees and angles of polarization that in combination with dark spots on a bright coat surface disrupt the attractiveness to tabanids. This could be one of the possible evolutionary benefits that explains why spotty coat patterns are so widespread in mammals, especially in ungulates, many species of which are tabanid hosts.
The insect's olfactory system is so selective that male moths, for example, can discriminate female-produced sex pheromones from compounds with minimal structural modifications. Yet, there is an exception for this “lock-and-key” tight selectivity. Formate analogs can be used as replacement for less chemically stable, long-chain aldehyde pheromones, because male moths respond physiologically and behaviorally to these parapheromones. However, it remained hitherto unknown how formate analogs interact with aldehyde-sensitive odorant receptors (ORs). Neuronal responses to semiochemicals were investigated with single sensillum recordings. Odorant receptors (ORs) were cloned using degenerate primers, and tested with the Xenopus oocyte expression system. Quality, relative quantity, and purity of samples were evaluated by gas chromatography and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. We identified olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) housed in trichoid sensilla on the antennae of male navel orangeworm that responded equally to the main constituent of the sex pheromone, (11Z,13Z)-hexadecadienal (Z11Z13-16Ald), and its formate analog, (9Z,11Z)-tetradecen-1-yl formate (Z9Z11-14OFor). We cloned an odorant receptor co-receptor (Orco) and aldehyde-sensitive ORs from the navel orangeworm, one of which (AtraOR1) was expressed specifically in male antennae. AtraOR1•AtraOrco-expressing oocytes responded mainly to Z11Z13-16Ald, with moderate sensitivity to another component of the sex pheromone, (11Z,13Z)-hexadecadien-1-ol. Surprisingly, this receptor was more sensitive to the related formate than to the natural sex pheromone. A pheromone receptor from Heliothis virescens, HR13 ( = HvirOR13) showed a similar profile, with stronger responses elicited by a formate analog than to the natural sex pheromone, (11Z)-hexadecenal thus suggesting this might be a common feature of moth pheromone receptors.
A key feature of mammalian olfactory perception is that sensory input is intimately related to respiration. Different authors have considered respiratory dynamics not only as a simple vector for odor molecules but also as an integral part of olfactory perception. Thus, rats adapt their sniffing strategy, both in frequency and flow rate, when performing odor-related tasks. The question of how frequency and flow rate jointly impact the spatio-temporal representation of odor in the olfactory bulb (OB) has not yet been answered. In the present paper, we addressed this question using a simulated nasal airflow protocol on anesthetized rats combined with voltage-sensitive dye imaging (VSDi) of odor-evoked OB glomerular maps. Glomerular responses displayed a tonic component during odor stimulation with a superimposed phasic component phase-locked to the sampling pattern. We showed that a high sniffing frequency (10 Hz) retained the ability to shape OB activity and that the tonic and phasic components of the VSDi responses were dependent on flow rate and inspiration volume, respectively. Both sniffing parameters jointly affected OB responses to odor such that the reduced activity level induced by a frequency increase was compensated by an increased flow rate.
Sex pheromones are essential in moth mate communication. Information on pheromone biosynthetic genes and enzymes is needed to comprehend the mechanisms that contribute to specificity of pheromone signals. Most heliothine moths use sex pheromones with (Z)–11–hexadecenal as the major component in combination with minor fatty aldehydes and alcohols. In this study we focus on four closely related species, Heliothis virescens, Heliothis subflexa, Helicoverpa armigera and Helicoverpa assulta, which use (Z)–11–hexadecenal, (Z)–9–tetradecanal, and (Z)–9–hexadecenal in different ratios in their pheromone blend. The components are produced from saturated fatty acid precursors by desaturation, β–oxidation, reduction and oxidation.
We analyzed the composition of fatty acyl pheromone precursors and correlated it to the pheromone composition. Next, we investigated whether the downstream fatty–acyl reduction step modulates the ratio of alcohol intermediates before the final oxidation step. By isolating and functionally characterizing the Fatty Acyl Reductase (pgFAR) from each species we found that the pgFARs were active on a broad set of C8 to C16 fatty acyl substrates including the key pheromone precursors, Z9–14, Z9–16 and Z11–16:acyls. When presenting the three precursors in equal ratios to yeast cultures expressing any of the four pgFARs, all reduced (Z)–9–tetradecenoate preferentially over (Z)–11–hexadecenoate, and the latter over (Z)–9–hexadecenoate. Finally, when manipulating the precursor ratios in vitro, we found that the pgFARs display small differences in the biochemical activity on various substrates.
We conclude that a pgFAR with broad specificity is involved in heliothine moth pheromone biosynthesis, functioning as a semi–selective funnel that produces species–specific alcohol product ratios depending on the fatty–acyl precursor ratio in the pheromone gland. This study further supports the key role of these in pheromone biosynthesis and emphasizes the interplay between the pheromone fatty acyl precursors and the Lepidoptera specific pgFARs in shaping the pheromone composition.
The function of chemical signalling in non-territorial solitary carnivores is still relatively unclear. Studies on territorial solitary and social carnivores have highlighted odour capability and utility, however the social function of chemical signalling in wild carnivore populations operating dominance hierarchy social systems has received little attention. We monitored scent marking and investigatory behaviour of wild brown bears Ursus arctos, to test multiple hypotheses relating to the social function of chemical signalling. Camera traps were stationed facing bear ‘marking trees’ to document behaviour by different age sex classes in different seasons. We found evidence to support the hypothesis that adult males utilise chemical signalling to communicate dominance to other males throughout the non-denning period. Adult females did not appear to utilise marking trees to advertise oestrous state during the breeding season. The function of marking by subadult bears is somewhat unclear, but may be related to the behaviour of adult males. Subadults investigated trees more often than they scent marked during the breeding season, which could be a result of an increased risk from adult males. Females with young showed an increase in marking and investigation of trees outside of the breeding season. We propose the hypothesis that females engage their dependent young with marking trees from a young age, at a relatively ‘safe’ time of year. Memory, experience, and learning at a young age, may all contribute towards odour capabilities in adult bears.
The effect of repeated exposure to sensory stimuli, with or without reward is well known to induce stimulus-specific modifications of behaviour, described as different forms of learning. In recent studies we showed that a brief single pre-exposure to the female-produced sex pheromone or even a predator sound can increase the behavioural and central nervous responses to this pheromone in males of the noctuid moth Spodoptera littoralis. To investigate if this increase in sensitivity might be restricted to the pheromone system or is a form of general sensitization, we studied here if a brief pre-exposure to stimuli of different modalities can reciprocally change behavioural and physiological responses to olfactory and gustatory stimuli. Olfactory and gustatory pre-exposure and subsequent behavioural tests were carried out to reveal possible intra- and cross-modal effects. Attraction to pheromone, monitored with a locomotion compensator, increased after exposure to olfactory and gustatory stimuli. Behavioural responses to sucrose, investigated using the proboscis extension reflex, increased equally after pre-exposure to olfactory and gustatory cues. Pheromone-specific neurons in the brain and antennal gustatory neurons did, however, not change their sensitivity after sucrose exposure. The observed intra- and reciprocal cross-modal effects of pre-exposure may represent a new form of stimulus-nonspecific general sensitization originating from modifications at higher sensory processing levels.
The Chinese pine caterpillar moth, Dendrolimus tabulaeformis Tsai and Liu (Lepidoptera: Lasiocampidae) is the most important defoliator of coniferous trees in northern China. Outbreaks occur over enormous areas and often lead to the death of forests during 2–3 successive years of defoliation. The sex pheromone of D. tabulaeformis was investigated to define its chemistry and behavioral activity.
Sex pheromone was collected from calling female D. tabulaeformis by headspace solid phase microextraction (SPME) and by solvent extraction of pheromone glands. Extracts were analyzed by coupled gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and coupled GC-electroantennographic detection (GC-EAD), using antennae from male moths. Five components from the extracts elicited antennal responses. These compounds were identified by a combination of retention indices, electron impact mass spectral matches, and derivatization as (Z)-5-dodecenyl acetate (Z5-12:OAc), (Z)-5-dodecenyl alcohol (Z5-12:OH), (5Z,7E)-5,7-dodecadien-1-yl acetate (Z5,E7-12:OAc), (5Z,7E)-5,7-dodecadien-1-yl propionate (Z5,E7-12:OPr), and (5Z,7E)-5,7-dodecadien-1-ol (Z5,E7-12:OH). Behavioral assays showed that male D. tabulaeformis strongly discriminated against incomplete and aberrant blend ratios. The correct ratio of Z5,E7-12:OAc, Z5,E7-12:OH, and Z5,E7-12:OPr was essential for optimal upwind flight and source contact. The two monoenes, Z5-12:OAc and Z5-12:OH, alone or binary mixtures, had no effect on behavioral responses when added to the optimal three-component blend.
The fact that deviations from the optimal ratio of 100∶100∶4.5 of Z5,E7-12:OAc, Z5,EZ7-12:OH, and Z5,E7-12:OPr resulted in marked decreases in male responses suggests that biosynthesis of the pheromone components is precisely controlled. The optimal blend of the sex pheromone components of D. tabulaeformis worked out in this study should find immediate use in monitoring this pest in Chinese forests.
In nature the aerial trace of pheromone used by male moths to find a female appears as a train of discontinuous pulses separated by gaps among a complex odorant background constituted of plant volatiles. We investigated the effect of such background odor on behavior and coding of temporal parameters of pheromone pulse trains in the pheromone olfactory receptor neurons of Spodoptera littoralis. Effects of linalool background were tested by measuring walking behavior towards a source of pheromone. While velocity and orientation index did drop when linalool was turned on, both parameters recovered back to pre-background values after 40 s with linalool still present. Photo-ionization detector was used to characterize pulse delivery by our stimulator. The photo-ionization detector signal reached 71% of maximum amplitude at 50 ms pulses and followed the stimulus period at repetition rates up to 10 pulses/s. However, at high pulse rates the concentration of the odorant did not return to base level during inter-pulse intervals. Linalool decreased the intensity and shortened the response of receptor neurons to pulses. High contrast (>10 dB) in firing rate between pulses and inter-pulse intervals was observed for 1 and 4 pulses/s, both with and without background. Significantly more neurons followed the 4 pulses/s pattern when delivered over linalool; at the same time the information content was preserved almost to the control values. Rapid recovery of behavior shows that change of perceived intensity is more important than absolute stimulus intensity. While decreasing the response intensity, background odor preserved the temporal parameters of the specific signal.