In situ modification of herbivore-induced plant odors: a novel approach to study the attractiveness of volatile organic compounds to parasitic wasps

Marco D'Alessandro, Ted C J Turlings
Chemical Senses 2005, 30 (9): 739-53
Many parasitic wasps (parasitoids) exploit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by herbivore-infested plants in order to locate their hosts, but it remains largely unknown which specific compounds within the volatile blends elicit the attractiveness to parasitoids. One way of studying the importance of specific VOCs is to test the attractiveness of odor blends from which certain compounds have been emitted. We used this approach by testing the attraction of naive and experienced females of the two parasitoids Cotesia marginiventris and Microplitis rufiventris to partially altered volatile blends of maize seedlings (Zea mays var. Delprim) infested with Spodoptera littoralis larvae. Adsorbing filter tubes containing carbotrap-C or silica were installed in a four-arm olfactometer between the odor source vessels and the arms of the olfactometer. The blends breaking through were tested for chemical composition and attractiveness to the wasps. Carbotrap-C adsorbed most of the sesquiterpenes, but the breakthrough blend remained attractive to naive C. marginiventris females. Silica adsorbed only some of the more polar VOCs, but this essentially eliminated all attractiveness to naive C. marginiventris, implying that among the adsorbed compounds there are some that play key roles in the attraction. Unlike C. marginiventris, M. rufiventris was still attracted to the latter blend, showing that parasitoids with a comparable biology may employ different strategies in their use of plant-provided cues to locate hosts. Results from similar experiments with modified odor blends of caterpillar-infested cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) indicate that key VOCs in different plant species vary greatly in quality and/or quantity. Finally, experienced wasps were more strongly attracted to a specific blend after they perceived the blend while ovipositing in a host. Considering the high number of distinct adsorbing materials available today, this in situ modification of complex volatile blends provides a new and promising approach pinpointing on key attractants within these blends. Advantages and disadvantages compared to other approaches are discussed.

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