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Response of Predatory Mites to a Herbivore-Induced Plant Volatile: Genetic Variation for Context-Dependent Behaviour

Sznajder, Beata, Sabelis, Maurice W., Egas, Martijn
Journal of chemical ecology 2010 v.36 no.7 pp. 680-688
Phytoseiulus persimilis, Tetranychus urticae, genetic variation, herbivores, lima beans, methyl salicylate, natural enemies, physiological state, predatory mites, volatile compounds
Plants infested with herbivores release specific volatile compounds that are known to recruit natural enemies. The response of natural enemies to these volatiles may be either learned or genetically determined. We asked whether there is genetic variation in the response of the predatory mite Phytoseiulus persimilis to methyl salicylate (MeSa). MeSa is a volatile compound consistently produced by plants being attacked by the two-spotted spider mite, the prey of P. persimilis. We predicted that predators express genetically determined responses during long-distance migration where previously learned associations may have less value. Additionally, we asked whether these responses depend on odors from uninfested plants as a background to MeSa. To infer a genetic basis, we analyzed the variation in response to MeSa among iso-female lines of P. persimilis by using choice-tests that involved either (1) MeSa presented as a single compound or (2) MeSa with background-odor from uninfested lima bean plants. These tests were conducted for starved and satiated predators, i.e., two physiological states, one that approximates migration and another that mimics local patch exploration. We found variation among iso-female lines in the responses to MeSa, thus showing genetic variation for this behavior. The variation was more pronounced in the starved predators, thus indicating that P. persimilis relies on innate preferences when migrating. Background volatiles of uninfested plants changed the predators' responses to MeSa in a manner that depended on physiological state and iso-female line. Thus, it is possible to select for context-dependent behavioral responses of natural enemies to plant volatiles.