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Plants tell caterpillars when it's safe to forage

ehavior.

But introducing plants changed larvae behavior under both day and night conditions. Six pots of three uninfested corn plants - plants that had never been grazed - were placed around the cups of larvae. After eight hours, about 20% more larvae went into hiding when the lights were on and plants were added. And when plants were introduced under dark conditions, about 30% less larvae were found hiding than were found in the dark without plants. Finally, to test the effect of plant volatiles directly, the researchers exposed larvae - some in the light and some in the dark - to a flow of volatiles collected from both uninfested and infested corn plants in light and dark conditions. When larvae in the dark were exposed to volatiles from uninfested plants, they hid in far greater numbers when the volatiles came from plants in the light than when they came from plants in the dark. And when larvae were in the light, far more hid when exposed to volatiles taken from plants in the light. Larvae responded similarly to volatiles taken from infested plants, though volatiles from infested plants in the light sent even more larvae into hiding.

These results demonstrate that it is not light that's controlling larval diurnal and nocturnal activity but volatiles released by the corn. Volatile compounds released during the day encourage hiding while those released at night indicate that it's safe to come out and eat. Just as parasitic wasps use plant volatiles to home in on potential victims, caterpillars use variations in their host plant's volatile production to reduce the risk of unpleasant encounters with wasps. Now that they've established volatiles' importance in influencing foraging behavior, the researchers plan to determine which compounds are responsible - and just how common insect-plant communication may be.


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Source:Public Library of Science


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