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A comparison of naïve and conditioned responses of three generalist endoparasitoids of lepidopteran larvae to host-induced plant odours

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Many parasitic wasps that exploit herbivores as their hosts make use of herbivoreinduced plant odours to locate their victims and these wasps often exhibit an ability to learn to associate specific plant-produced odours with the presence of hosts. This associative learning is expected to allow generalist parasitoids to focus on cues that are most reliably associated with current host presence, but evidence supporting this hypothesis is ambiguous. Using a six-arm olfactometer we compared the responses of three generalist larval endoparasitoids, Cotesia marginiventris (Hymenoptera: Braconidae), Microplitis rufiventris (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) and Campoletis sonorensis (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae), to the induced odours of three plant species: maize (Zea mays), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), and cotton (Gossypium hirsutum). We tested the responses of naïve females as well as of females that were first conditioned by parasitising host larvae feeding on one of the plant species. Despite similarities in biology and host range the three wasp species responded entirely differently. Naïve C. marginiventris and C. sonorensis chose equally among the induced odours of the three plants, whereas naïve M. rufiventris, which may have a somewhat more restricted host range, tended to prefer the odour of maize. After conditioning, most C. marginiventris females chose the odour of the plant species that they had experienced, but conditioned M. rufiventris showed an even stronger preference for maize odours, independently of the plant they had experienced. Cotesia sonorensis did not show any change in its preference after conditioning. We speculate that its extremely broad host range allows C. sonorensis females to use fixed responses to cues commonly associated with plants damaged by Lepidoptera. These results imply that different generalist parasitoids may employ different foraging strategies and that associative learning is not necessarily part of it.


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