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Predatory beetles eavesdrop on ants' chemical conversations to find best egg-laying sites
Date:8/3/2012

ANN ARBOR, Mich.Predatory beetles can detect the unique alarm signal released by ants that are under attack by parasitic flies, and the beetles use those overheard conversations to guide their search for safe egg-laying sites on coffee bushes.

Azteca instabilis ants patrol coffee bushes and emit chemical alarm signals when they're under attack by phorid flies. In an article published online July 27 in the journal Ecology and Evolution, University of Michigan researchers and their colleagues show that pregnant lady beetles intercept the ants' alarm pheromones, which let the beetles know that it's safe to deposit their eggs.

The findings, which may have practical implications for pest management on coffee plantations, are the first documentation of a complex cascade of interactions mediated by ant pheromones, according to the authors.

"It is too often the case that pest management in agriculture focuses on finding a magic bullet solution to every problem," said U-M ecologist Ivette Perfecto, professor at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment and co-author of the Ecology and Evolution paper.

First author of the paper is Hsun-Yi Hsieh, a graduate student at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

"This research shows that there are very complex ecological interactions that are involved in population regulation, and when the population of concern is a potential pest species, understanding those interactions is key to the long-term sustainability of pest control strategies," Perfecto said.

Ants and other social insects communicate using chemicals called pheromones. Little is known about insects and other creatures that exploit ant chemical communication systems. A few such cases have been reported, including ant-eating spiders that use ant alarm pheromones to find their prey and parasitic flies that use ant alarm or trail pheromones to find their host.

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Contact: Jim Erickson
ericksn@umich.edu
734-647-1842
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

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