Habituation to a deterrent plant alkaloid develops faster in the specialist herbivore helicoverpa assulta than in its generalist congener helicoverpa armigera and coincides with taste neuron desensitisation

Dong Sheng Zhou, Chen Zhu Wang*, Joop J.A. van Loon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The two closely related moth species, Helicoverpa armigera and H. assulta differ strongly in their degree of host-plant specialism. In dual-choice leaf disk assays, caterpillars of the two species that had been reared on standard artificial diet were strongly deterred by the plant-derived alkaloid strychnine. However, caterpillars of both species reared on artificial diet containing strychnine from neonate to the 5th instar were insensitive to this compound. Fifth instar caterpillars of H. assulta and 4th or 5th instars of H. armigera not exposed to strychnine before were subjected to strychnine-containing diet for 24 h, 36 h, 48 h, or 72 h. Whereas H. assulta displayed habituation to strychnine after 48 h, it took until 72 h for H. armigera to become habituated. Electrophysiological tests revealed that a deterrent-sensitive neuron in the medial sensillum styloconicum of both species displayed significantly reduced sensitivity to strychnine that correlated with the onset of habituation. We conclude that the specialist H. assulta habituated faster to strychnine than the generalist H. armigera and hypothesis that desensitization of deterrent-sensitive neurons contributed to habituation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21
JournalInsects
Volume13
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022

Keywords

  • Habituation
  • Helicoverpa armigera
  • Helicoverpa assulta
  • Strychnine
  • Taste desensitization

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