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1.  The Influence of Learning on Host Plant Preference in a Significant Phytopathogen Vector, Diaphorina citri 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(3):e0149815.
Although specialist herbivorous insects are guided by innate responses to host plant cues, host plant preference may be influenced by experience and is not dictated by instinct alone. The effect of learning on host plant preference was examined in the Asian citrus psyllid, Diaphorina citri; vector of the causal agent of citrus greening disease or huanglongbing. We investigated: a) whether development on specific host plant species influenced host plant preference in mature D. citri; and b) the extent of associative learning in D. citri in the form of simple and compound conditioning. Learning was measured by cue selection in a 2-choice behavioral assay and compared to naïve controls. Our results showed that learned responses in D. citri are complex and diverse. The developmental host plant species influenced adult host plant preference, with female psyllids preferring the species on which they were reared. However, such preferences were subject to change with the introduction of an alternative host plant within 24–48 hrs, indicating a large degree of experience-dependent response plasticity. Additionally, learning occurred for multiple sensory modalities where novel olfactory and visual environmental cues were associated with the host plant. However, males and females displayed differing discriminatory abilities. In compound conditioning tasks, males exhibited recognition of a compound stimulus alone while females were capable of learning the individual components. These findings suggest D. citri are dynamic animals that demonstrate host plant preference based on developmental and adult experience and can learn to recognize olfactory and visual host plant stimuli in ways that may be sex specific. These experience-based associations are likely used by adults to locate and select suitable host plants for feeding and reproduction and may suggest the need for more tailored lures and traps, which reflect region-specific cultivars or predominate Rutaceae in the area being monitored.
PMCID: PMC4773162  PMID: 26930355
2.  The ambrosia symbiosis is specific in some species and promiscuous in others: evidence from community pyrosequencing 
The ISME Journal  2014;9(1):126-138.
Symbioses are increasingly seen as dynamic ecosystems with multiple associates and varying fidelity. Symbiont specificity remains elusive in one of the most ecologically successful and economically damaging eukaryotic symbioses: the ambrosia symbiosis of wood-boring beetles and fungi. We used multiplexed pyrosequencing of amplified internal transcribed spacer II (ITS2) ribosomal DNA (rDNA) libraries to document the communities of fungal associates and symbionts inside the mycangia (fungus transfer organ) of three ambrosia beetle species, Xyleborus affinis, Xyleborus ferrugineus and Xylosandrus crassiusculus. We processed 93 beetle samples from 5 locations across Florida, including reference communities. Fungal communities within mycangia included 14–20 fungus species, many more than reported by culture-based studies. We recovered previously known nutritional symbionts as members of the core community. We also detected several other fungal taxa that are equally frequent but whose function is unknown and many other transient species. The composition of fungal assemblages was significantly correlated with beetle species but not with locality. The type of mycangium appears to determine specificity: two Xyleborus with mandibular mycangia had multiple dominant associates with even abundances; Xylosandrus crassiusculus (mesonotal mycangium) communities were dominated by a single symbiont, Ambrosiella sp. Beetle mycangia also carried many fungi from the environment, including plant pathogens and endophytes. The ITS2 marker proved useful for ecological analyses, but the taxonomic resolution was limited to fungal genus or family, particularly in Ophiostomatales, which are under-represented in our amplicons as well as in public databases. This initial analysis of three beetle species suggests that each clade of ambrosia beetles and each mycangium type may support a functionally and taxonomically distinct symbiosis.
PMCID: PMC4274425  PMID: 25083930
3.  Social Networks of Educated Nematodes 
Scientific Reports  2015;5:14388.
Entomopathogenic nematodes are obligate lethal parasitoids of insect larvae that navigate a chemically complex belowground environment while interacting with their insect hosts, plants, and each other. In this environment, prior exposure to volatile compounds appears to prime nematodes in a compound specific manner, increasing preference for volatiles they previously were exposed to and decreasing attraction to other volatiles. In addition, persistence of volatile exposure influences this response. Longer exposure not only increases preference, but also results in longer retention of that preference. These entomopathogenic nematodes display interspecific social behavioral plasticity; experienced nematodes influence the behavior of different species. This interspecific social behavioral plasticity suggests a mechanism for rapid adaptation of belowground communities to dynamic environments.
PMCID: PMC4585912  PMID: 26404058
4.  Infection of an Insect Vector with a Bacterial Plant Pathogen Increases Its Propensity for Dispersal 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(6):e0129373.
The spread of vector-transmitted pathogens relies on complex interactions between host, vector and pathogen. In sessile plant pathosystems, the spread of a pathogen highly depends on the movement and mobility of the vector. However, questions remain as to whether and how pathogen-induced vector manipulations may affect the spread of a plant pathogen. Here we report for the first time that infection with a bacterial plant pathogen increases the probability of vector dispersal, and that such movement of vectors is likely manipulated by a bacterial plant pathogen. We investigated how Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas) affects dispersal behavior, flight capacity, and the sexual attraction of its vector, the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri Kuwayama). CLas is the putative causal agent of huanglongbing (HLB), which is a disease that threatens the viability of commercial citrus production worldwide. When D. citri developed on CLas-infected plants, short distance dispersal of male D. citri was greater compared to counterparts reared on uninfected plants. Flight by CLas-infected D. citri was initiated earlier and long flight events were more common than by uninfected psyllids, as measured by a flight mill apparatus. Additionally, CLas titers were higher among psyllids that performed long flights than psyllid that performed short flights. Finally, attractiveness of female D. citri that developed on infected plants to male conspecifics increased proportionally with increasing CLas bacterial titers measured within female psyllids. Our study indicates that the phytopathogen, CLas, may manipulate movement and mate selection behavior of their vectors, which is a possible evolved mechanism to promote their own spread. These results have global implications for both current HLB models of disease spread and control strategies.
PMCID: PMC4471203  PMID: 26083763
5.  Double-Stranded RNA Uptake through Topical Application, Mediates Silencing of Five CYP4 Genes and Suppresses Insecticide Resistance in Diaphorina citri 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e110536.
Silencing of genes through RNA interference (RNAi) in insects has gained momentum during the past few years. RNAi has been used to cause insect mortality, inhibit insect growth, increase insecticide susceptibility, and prevent the development of insecticide resistance. We investigated the efficacy of topically applied dsRNA to induce RNAi for five Cytochrome P450 genes family 4 (CYP4) in Diaphorina citri. We previously reported that these CYP4 genes are associated with the development of insecticide resistance in D. citri. We targeted five CYP4 genes that share a consensus sequence with one dsRNA construct. Quantitative PCR confirmed suppressed expression of the five CYP4 genes as a result of dsRNA topically applied to the thoracic region of D. citri when compared to the expression levels in a control group. Western blot analysis indicated a reduced signal of cytochrome P450 proteins (45 kDa) in adult D. citri treated with the dsRNA. In addition, oxidase activity and insecticide resistance were reduced for D. citri treated with dsRNA that targeted specific CYP4 genes. Mortality was significantly higher in adults treated with dsRNA than in adults treated with water. Our results indicate that topically applied dsRNA can penetrate the cuticle of D. citri and induce RNAi. These results broaden the scope of RNAi as a mechanism to manage pests by targeting a broad range of genes. The results also support the application of RNAi as a viable tool to overcome insecticide resistance development in D. citri populations. However, further research is needed to develop grower-friendly delivery systems for the application of dsRNA under field conditions. Considering the high specificity of dsRNA, this tool can also be used for management of D. citri by targeting physiologically critical genes involved in growth and development.
PMCID: PMC4203802  PMID: 25330026
6.  Subterranean, Herbivore-Induced Plant Volatile Increases Biological Control Activity of Multiple Beneficial Nematode Species in Distinct Habitats 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38146.
While the role of herbivore-induced volatiles in plant-herbivore-natural enemy interactions is well documented aboveground, new evidence suggests that belowground volatile emissions can protect plants by attracting entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs). However, due to methodological limitations, no study has previously detected belowground herbivore-induced volatiles in the field or quantified their impact on attraction of diverse EPN species. Here we show how a belowground herbivore-induced volatile can enhance mortality of agriculturally significant root pests. First, in real time, we identified pregeijerene (1,5-dimethylcyclodeca-1,5,7-triene) from citrus roots 9–12 hours after initiation of larval Diaprepes abbreviatus feeding. This compound was also detected in the root zone of mature citrus trees in the field. Application of collected volatiles from weevil-damaged citrus roots attracted native EPNs and increased mortality of beetle larvae (D. abbreviatus) compared to controls in a citrus orchard. In addition, field applications of isolated pregeijerene caused similar results. Quantitative real-time PCR revealed that pregeijerene increased pest mortality by attracting four species of naturally occurring EPNs in the field. Finally, we tested the generality of this root-zone signal by application of pregeijerene in blueberry fields; mortality of larvae (Galleria mellonella and Anomala orientalis) again increased by attracting naturally occurring populations of an EPN. Thus, this specific belowground signal attracts natural enemies of widespread root pests in distinct agricultural systems and may have broad potential in biological control of root pests.
PMCID: PMC3384653  PMID: 22761668
7.  Interspecific Nematode Signals Regulate Dispersal Behavior 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38735.
Dispersal is an important nematode behavior. Upon crowding or food depletion, the free living bacteriovorus nematode Caenorhabditis elegans produces stress resistant dispersal larvae, called dauer, which are analogous to second stage juveniles (J2) of plant parasitic Meloidogyne spp. and infective juveniles (IJ)s of entomopathogenic nematodes (EPN), e.g., Steinernema feltiae. Regulation of dispersal behavior has not been thoroughly investigated for C. elegans or any other nematode species. Based on the fact that ascarosides regulate entry in dauer stage as well as multiple behaviors in C. elegans adults including mating, avoidance and aggregation, we hypothesized that ascarosides might also be involved in regulation of dispersal behavior in C. elegans and for other nematodes such as IJ of phylogenetically related EPNs.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis of C. elegans dauer conditioned media, which shows strong dispersing activity, revealed four known ascarosides (ascr#2, ascr#3, ascr#8, icas#9). A synthetic blend of these ascarosides at physiologically relevant concentrations dispersed C. elegans dauer in the presence of food and also caused dispersion of IJs of S. feltiae and J2s of plant parasitic Meloidogyne spp. Assay guided fractionation revealed structural analogs as major active components of the S. feltiae (ascr#9) and C. elegans (ascr#2) dispersal blends. Further analysis revealed ascr#9 in all Steinernema spp. and Heterorhabditis spp. infected insect host cadavers.
Ascaroside blends represent evolutionarily conserved, fundamentally important communication systems for nematodes from diverse habitats, and thus may provide sustainable means for control of parasitic nematodes.
PMCID: PMC3368880  PMID: 22701701
8.  Induced Release of a Plant-Defense Volatile ‘Deceptively’ Attracts Insect Vectors to Plants Infected with a Bacterial Pathogen 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(3):e1002610.
Transmission of plant pathogens by insect vectors is a complex biological process involving interactions between the plant, insect, and pathogen. Pathogen-induced plant responses can include changes in volatile and nonvolatile secondary metabolites as well as major plant nutrients. Experiments were conducted to understand how a plant pathogenic bacterium, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (Las), affects host preference behavior of its psyllid (Diaphorina citri Kuwayama) vector. D. citri were attracted to volatiles from pathogen-infected plants more than to those from non-infected counterparts. Las-infected plants were more attractive to D. citri adults than non-infected plants initially; however after feeding, psyllids subsequently dispersed to non-infected rather than infected plants as their preferred settling point. Experiments with Las-infected and non-infected plants under complete darkness yielded similar results to those recorded under light. The behavior of psyllids in response to infected versus non-infected plants was not influenced by whether or not they were carriers of the pathogen. Quantification of volatile release from non-infected and infected plants supported the hypothesis that odorants mediate psyllid preference. Significantly more methyl salicylate, yet less methyl anthranilate and D-limonene, was released by infected than non-infected plants. Methyl salicylate was attractive to psyllids, while methyl anthranilate did not affect their behavior. Feeding on citrus by D. citri adults also induced release of methyl salicylate, suggesting that it may be a cue revealing location of conspecifics on host plants. Infected plants were characterized by lower levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, zinc, and iron, as well as, higher levels of potassium and boron than non-infected plants. Collectively, our results suggest that host selection behavior of D. citri may be modified by bacterial infection of plants, which alters release of specific headspace volatiles and plant nutritional contents. Furthermore, we show in a laboratory setting that this apparent pathogen-mediated manipulation of vector behavior may facilitate pathogen spread.
Author Summary
In this investigation, we experimentally demonstrate specific mechanisms through which a bacterial plant pathogen induces plant responses that modify behavior of its insect vector. Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, a fastidious, phloem-limited bacterium responsible for causing huanglongbing disease of citrus, induced release of a specific volatile chemical, methyl salicylate, which increased attractiveness of infected plants to its insect vector, Diaphorina citri, and caused vectors to initially prefer infected plants. However, the insect vectors subsequently dispersed to non-infected plants as their preferred location of prolonged settling because of likely sub-optimal nutritional content of infected plants. The duration of initial feeding on infected plants was sufficiently long for the vectors to acquire the pathogen before they dispersed to non-infected plants, suggesting that the bacterial pathogen manipulates behavior of its insect vector to promote its own proliferation. The behavior of psyllids in response to infected versus non-infected plants was not influenced by whether or not they were carriers of the pathogen and was similar under both light and dark conditions. Feeding on citrus by D. citri adults also induced the release of methyl salicylate, suggesting that it may be a cue revealing location of conspecifics on host plants.
PMCID: PMC3310815  PMID: 22457628
9.  Sexual Transmission of a Plant Pathogenic Bacterium, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, between Conspecific Insect Vectors during Mating 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e29197.
Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus is a fastidious, phloem-inhabiting, gram-negative bacterium transmitted by Asian citrus psyllid, Diaphorina citri Kuwayama (Hemiptera: Psyllidae). The bacterium is the presumed causal agent of huanglongbing (HLB), one of the most destructive and economically important diseases of citrus. We investigated whether Las is transmitted between infected and uninfected D. citri adults during courtship. Our results indicate that Las was sexually transmitted from Las-infected male D. citri to uninfected females at a low rate (<4%) during mating. Sexual transmission was not observed following mating of infected females and uninfected males or among adult pairs of the same sex. Las was detected in genitalia of both sexes and also in eggs of infected females. A latent period of 7 days or more was required to detect the bacterium in recipient females. Rod shaped as well as spherical structures resembling Las were observed in ovaries of Las-infected females with transmission electron microscopy, but were absent in ovaries from uninfected D. citri females. The size of the rod shaped structures varied from 0.39 to 0.67 µm in length and 0.19 to 0.39 µm in width. The spherical structures measured from 0.61 to 0.80 µm in diameter. This investigation provides convincing evidence that a plant pathogenic bacterium is sexually transmitted from male to female insects during courtship and established evidence that bacteria persist in reproductive organs. Moreover, these findings provide an alternative sexually horizontal mechanism for the spread of Las within populations of D. citri, even in the absence of infected host trees.
PMCID: PMC3244449  PMID: 22216209
10.  Recognition of foreign oviposition marking pheromones is context dependent and determined by preimaginal conditioning 
Many insects deposit marking pheromones following egg-laying that signal an occupied and thus sub-optimal resource. Herbivorous insects mark host fruit or other vegetative plant parts after depositing eggs, while insect parasitoids deposit such pheromones directly on the cuticle of a particular life stage of their prey. These oviposition marking pheromones (OMPs) are then recognized by conspecifics, which avoid subsequent egg-laying in the previously utilized and unsuitable host. Since many host resources are capable of supporting a limited number of offspring, these pheromones function to decrease competition among the brood, which increases survival rate of the subsequent generation. In rare instances, distinct species of phytophagous and parasitic insects will inspect the same substrate following egg-laying.1 Recently, Stelinski et al.1 have demonstrated that in such instances, the herbivore is able to learn to recognize its predator's OMP and utilize it to its advantage by avoiding oviposition into unsuitable host fruit. This recognition of a foreign marking pheromone occurs in a multitrophic context since both herbivore and parasitoid inspect, oviposit into, and mark the same substrate (i.e., fruit surface). In this Article Addendum, we further show that this recognition of a foreign pheromone is both context-dependent and mediated by preimaginal conditioning.
PMCID: PMC2775229  PMID: 19907696
xenodeictic pheromone; Rhagoletis pomonella; Diachasma alloeum; host marking; parasitoid; behavioral plasticity; larval conditioning

Results 1-10 (10)