Herbivore-induced plant volatiles mediate in-flight host discrimination by parasitoids

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Herbivore feeding induces plants to emit volatiles that are detectable and reliable cues for foraging parasitoids, which allows them to perform oriented host searching. We investigated whether these plant volatiles play a role in avoiding parasitoid competition by discriminating parasitized from unparasitized hosts in flight. In a wind tunnel set-up, we used mechanically damaged plants treated with regurgitant containing elicitors to simulate and standardize herbivore feeding. The solitary parasitoid Cotesia rubecula discriminated among volatile blends from Brussels sprouts plants treated with regurgitant of unparasitized Pieris rapae or P. brassicae caterpillars over blends emitted by plants treated with regurgitant of parasitized caterpillars. The gregarious Cotesia glomerata discriminated between volatiles induced by regurgitant from parasitized and unparasitized caterpillars of its major host species, P. brassicae. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis of headspace odors revealed that cabbage plants treated with regurgitant of parasitized P. brassicae caterpillars emitted lower amounts of volatiles than plants treated with unparasitized caterpillars. We demonstrate (1) that parasitoids can detect, in flight, whether their hosts contain competitors, and (2) that plants reduce the production of specific herbivore-induced volatiles after a successful recruitment of their bodyguards. As the induced volatiles bear biosynthetic and ecological costs to plants, downregulation of their production has adaptive value. These findings add a new level of intricacy to plant¿parasitoid interactions
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2033-2047
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • brussels-sprouts plants
  • pieris-brassicae
  • cotesia-rubecula
  • cabbage plants
  • c-rubecula
  • carnivorous arthropods
  • infochemical use
  • damaged plants
  • hymenoptera
  • braconidae


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