Response of a Predatory ant to Volatiles Emitted by Aphid- and Caterpillar-Infested Cucumber and Potato Plants

Mauro Schettino, Donato A. Grasso*, Berhane T. Weldegergis, Cristina Castracani, Alessandra Mori, Marcel Dicke, Joop C. van Lenteren, Joop J.A. van Loon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


In response to herbivory by insects, various plants produce volatiles that attract enemies of the herbivores. Although ants are important components of natural and agro-ecosystems, the importance of herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) as cues for ants for finding food sources have received little attention. We investigated responses of the ant Formica pratensis to volatiles emitted by uninfested and insect-infested cucumber (Cucumis sativus) and potato (Solanum tuberosum) plants. Cucumber plants were infested by the phloem-feeding aphid Aphis gossypii, the leaf chewer Mamestra brassicae or simultaneously by both insects. Potato plants were infested by either Aphis gossypii, by the leaf chewer Chrysodeixis chalcites or both. In olfactometer experiments, ants preferred volatile blends emitted by cucumber plants infested with M. brassicae caterpillars alone or combined with A. gossypii to volatiles of undamaged plants or plants damaged by A. gossypii only. No preference was recorded in choice tests between volatiles released by aphid-infested plants over undamaged plants. Volatiles emitted by potato plants infested by either C. chalcites or A. gossypii were preferred by ants over volatiles released by undamaged plants. Ants did not discriminate between potato plants infested with aphids and caterpillars over plants infested with aphids only. Plant headspace composition showed qualitative and/or quantitative differences between herbivore treatments. Multivariate analysis revealed clear separation between uninfested and infested plants and among herbivore treatments. The importance of HIPVs in indirect plant defence by ants is discussed in the context of the ecology of ant-plant interactions and possible roles of ants in pest management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1007-1022
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number10
Early online date26 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


  • Ant-plant interactions
  • Behavioural response
  • GC-MS analysis
  • Herbivore-induced plant volatiles
  • Herbivory
  • Indirect defence
  • Infochemicals
  • Plant defence
  • Tritrophic interactions


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