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Mechanistic aspects of host plant preference in butterflies
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3187-3555
2012 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Searching and locating resources is essential for survival. In herbivorous insects search behavior is conducted on several scales, requiring input and integration of information from different sensory modalities. Even though it is known that vision, olfaction and contact-chemoreception are employed to detect, navigate towards and evaluate resources their exact contribution is poorly known. To shed light on the importance of the different sensory modalities, one has to start with separating the stimuli of different quality from each other and to inspect them under controlled conditions. Olfactory cues are blends of volatile compounds emitted by plants that are used by many Lepidoptera and other insects to navigate towards targets. Despite this knowledge, butterflies are generally considered to rely mainly on visual cues. Following several indications that butterflies also use olfactory cues in search for targets, this thesis investigated the olfactory capabilities of two nymphalid butterfly species with different degrees of host plant specializations. In Paper I optical imaging studies on the primary olfactory center, the antennal lobe, revealed a well developed olfactory system. The two species responded similarly to the tested odorants, but the specialist butterfly Aglais urticae seemed to respond more discriminatively towards its host plant Urtica dioica than the generalist species Polygonia c-album. In Paper II we used a behavioral assay to verify the assumption that the two butterfly species can use olfactory cues to navigate towards odor targets. The two tested species differed in their responses in both studies with respect to their ecology. Inferior discrimination abilities of the generalist species are discussed in the light of possible neural processing constraints.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Zoology, Stockholm University , 2012. , 24 p.
National Category
Ecology Zoology
Research subject
Animal Ecology; Ethology; Zoology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-84504OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-84504DiVA: diva2:580693
Available from: 2013-01-22 Created: 2012-12-24 Last updated: 2015-01-12Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Odour Maps in the Brain of Butterflies with Divergent Host-Plant Preferences
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Odour Maps in the Brain of Butterflies with Divergent Host-Plant Preferences
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2011 (English)In: PLoS ONE, ISSN 1932-6203, E-ISSN 1932-6203, Vol. 6, no 8, e24025Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Butterflies are believed to use mainly visual cues when searching for food and oviposition sites despite that their olfactory system is morphologically similar to their nocturnal relatives, the moths. The olfactory ability in butterflies has, however, not been thoroughly investigated. Therefore, we performed the first study of odour representation in the primary olfactory centre, the antennal lobes, of butterflies. Host plant range is highly variable within the butterfly family Nymphalidae, with extreme specialists and wide generalists found even among closely related species. Here we measured odour evoked Ca2+ activity in the antennal lobes of two nymphalid species with diverging host plant preferences, the specialist Aglais urticae and the generalist Polygonia c-album. The butterflies responded with stimulus-specific combinations of activated glomeruli to single plant-related compounds and to extracts of host and non-host plants. In general, responses were similar between the species. However, the specialist A. urticae responded more specifically to its preferred host plant, stinging nettle, than P. c-album. In addition, we found a species-specific difference both in correlation between responses to two common green leaf volatiles and the sensitivity to these compounds. Our results indicate that these butterflies have the ability to detect and to discriminate between different plant-related odorants.

National Category
Biological Sciences
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-62479 (URN)10.1371/journal.pone.0024025 (DOI)000294298000039 ()
Available from: 2011-09-20 Created: 2011-09-20 Last updated: 2017-12-08Bibliographically approved
2. The Role of Olfactory Cues for the Search Behavior of a Specialist and Generalist Butterfly
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Role of Olfactory Cues for the Search Behavior of a Specialist and Generalist Butterfly
2015 (English)In: Journal of insect behavior, ISSN 0892-7553, E-ISSN 1572-8889, Vol. 28, no 1, 77-87 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Searching for resources is often a challenging task, especially for small organisms such as insects. Complex stimuli have to be extracted from the environment and translated into a relevant behavioral output. A first step in this process is to investigate the relative roles of the different senses during search for various resources. While the role of olfaction is well documented in nocturnal moths, the olfactory abilities of the closely related diurnal butterflies are poorly explored. Here we investigated how olfactory information is used in the search for host plants and asked if these abilities varied with levels of stimulus complexity. Thus, we tested two nymphalid butterfly species with divergent host plant range in a two-choice olfactometer testing different combinations of host and non-host plants. The experiments show both the monophagous Aglais urticae and the polyphagous Polygonia c-album could navigate towards an odor source, but this ability varied with context. While mated females exhibited a preference for their host plant, unmated females of both species did not show a preference for host plant cues. Furthermore, both species showed inabilities to make fine-tuned decisions between hosts. We conclude that olfactory cues are important for butterflies to navigate towards targets. We argue that there are limitations on how much information can be extracted from host volatiles. These results are discussed in the light of neural processing limitations and degree of host plant specialization, suggesting the necessity of other sensory modalities to sharpen the decision process and facilitate the final oviposition event.

Keyword
Olfaction, Lepidoptera, search behavior, information processing hypothesis, host plant specialization
National Category
Biological Sciences
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-112330 (URN)10.1007/s10905-014-9482-0 (DOI)000347688400008 ()
Available from: 2015-01-12 Created: 2015-01-12 Last updated: 2017-12-05Bibliographically approved

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