Parasitism causes changes in caterpillar odours and associated bacterial communities with consequences for host-location by a hyperparasitoid

Mitchel E. Bourne*, Gabriele Gloder, Berhane T. Weldegergis, Marijn Slingerland, Andrea Ceribelli, Sam Crauwels, Bart Lievens, Hans Jacquemyn, Marcel Dicke, Erik H. Poelman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Microorganisms living in and on macroorganisms may produce microbial volatile compounds (mVOCs) that characterise organismal odours. The mVOCs might thereby provide a reliable cue to carnivorous enemies in locating their host or prey. Parasitism by parasitoid wasps might alter the microbiome of their caterpillar host, affecting organismal odours and interactions with insects of higher trophic levels such as hyperparasitoids. Hyperparasitoids parasitise larvae or pupae of parasitoids, which are often concealed or inconspicuous. Odours of parasitised caterpillars aid them to locate their host, but the origin of these odours and its relationship to the caterpillar microbiome are unknown. Here, we analysed the odours and microbiome of the large cabbage white caterpillar Pieris brassicae in relation to parasitism by its endoparasitoid Cotesia glomerata. We identified how bacterial presence in and on the caterpillars is correlated with caterpillar odours and tested the attractiveness of parasitised and unparasitised caterpillars to the hyperparasitoid Baryscapus galactopus. We manipulated the presence of the external microbiome and the transient internal microbiome of caterpillars to identify the microbial origin of odours. We found that parasitism by C. glomerata led to the production of five characteristic volatile products and significantly affected the internal and external microbiome of the caterpillar, which were both found to have a significant correlation with caterpillar odours. The preference of the hyperparasitoid was correlated with the presence of the external microbiome. Likely, the changes in external microbiome and body odour after parasitism were driven by the resident internal microbiome of caterpillars, where the bacterium Wolbachia sp. was only present after parasitism. Micro-injection of Wolbachia in unparasitised caterpillars increased hyperparasitoid attraction to the caterpillars compared to untreated caterpillars, while no differences were found compared to parasitised caterpillars. In conclusion, our results indicate that host-parasite interactions can affect multi-trophic interactions and hyperparasitoid olfaction through alterations of the microbiome.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1011262
Number of pages32
JournalPLoS Pathogens
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2023


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