Gall Fly Outmaneuvers Host Plant in Evolutionary Game of “Spy vs. Spy”

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Over time goldenrod plants and the gall flies that feed upon them have actually been one-upping each other in a continuous competitors for survival. Now, a group of scientists has actually found that by spotting the plants’ chemical defenses, the pests might have taken the lead. Credit: Eric Yip, Penn State

Over time goldenrod plants and the gall flies that feed upon them have actually been one-upping each other in a continuous competitors for survival. Now, a group of scientists has actually found that by spotting the plants’ chemical defenses, the pests might have taken the lead.

According to John Tooker, teacher of entomology, this complex circumstance starts when a female gall fly (Eurosta solidaginis) lays its eggs in the leaf bud of a goldenrod plant (Solidago altissima). This action requires the plant to produce a tumor-like development, called a gall. This gall, he stated, supplies the fly larvae with a source of nutrition and security from predators and the environment however reduces the plants’ capability to replicate.

“Our previous research showed that goldenrod plants have evolved to ‘eavesdrop’ on the sexual communications of their gall fly herbivores — specifically, the sex pheromones used by males to attract females,” he stated. “Our new research, suggests that the plants respond to this ‘intelligence’ by strengthening, also known as ‘priming,’ chemical defenses to prevent females from laying eggs and inducing gall formation.”

Eric Yip, postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Entomology, Penn State, discussed that this plant-insect dynamic resembles the turnarounds of fortune that happen in the “Spy vs. Spy” cartoon, just the characters are a plant and a bug instead of a set of animation illustrations.

To examine the impacts of priming, the scientists in their brand-new research study exposed practically 300 goldenrod plants consisting of 11 hereditary types — or genotypes — to male flies that differed in age, from one to 4 weeks old, along with a control in which the plants were not exposed to flies. Next, the group permitted already-mated women to access the plants, and they counted the variety of times a female placed her ovipositor — egg-laying gadget — into the flower buds as a procedure of her choice for specific plants. The group then tracked gall development.

The findings were released just recently in the Journal of Ecology.

The researchers discovered that although priming resulted in decreased gall development in general, its impacts differed by the age of the male flies utilized for priming. Priming by more youthful males led to substantially less galls, while priming by older males yielded more galls.

“The female flies in our research study appeared to ‘know’ — most likely through some sort of code breaking that we have yet to comprehend — that their offspring would be most effective on plants that had actually been primed to a lower degree by the older males.

The impacts of priming likewise varied by plant genotype.

“One genotype became completely resistant to galling after priming, but another became more vulnerable when exposed to older male flies,” stated Yip. “So, the plant evolved to protect itself against the fly, and subsequently the fly, at least on some plant genotypes, has evolved to make galls more likely.”

The group prepares to next examine how flies, through their avoidance of primed plants, might be asserting additional selective pressure on the development of this defense.

“Ultimately,” Tooker stated, “the findings could have practical applications in agriculture, perhaps enabling us to enhance crop plants’ defenses against pests without the use of toxic pesticides.”

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Reference: “Sensory co‐evolution: The sex attractant of a gall‐making fly primes plant defences, but female flies recognize resulting changes in host‐plant quality” by Eric C. Yip, Consuelo M. De Moraes, John F. Tooker and Mark C. Mescher, 15 June 2020, Journal of Ecology.
DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.13447

Other authors on the paper consist of Consuelo De Moraes, teacher of ecological systems science, and Mark Mescher, teacher of plant ecology, both at ETH Zurich.

The Swiss National Science Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, and ETH Zürich supported this research study.



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