Self-pollination is common in plants, and limited seed and pollen dispersal can create localized inbreeding even within outcrossing plants. Consequently, insects regularly encounter inbred plants in nature. Because inbreeding results in elevated homozygosity, greater expression of recessive alleles, and subsequent phenotypic changes in inbred plants, inbreeding may alter plant-insect interactions. Recent research has found that plant inbreeding alters resistance and tolerance to herbivores, alters the attraction and susceptibility of plants to insects that vector plant pathogens, and alters visitation rates of insect pollinators. These results suggest that interactions with insects can increase or decrease inbreeding depression (the loss of fitness due to self-fertilization) and subsequently alter the evolution of selfing within plant populations. Future work needs to focus on the mechanisms underlying genetic variation in the effects of inbreeding on plant-insect interactions and the consequences of altered plant-insect interactions on the evolution of plant defense and plant mating systems. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Entomology Volume 59 is January 07, 2014. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/catalog/pubdates.aspx for revised estimates.
Biotic interactions are often important in the establishment and spread of invasive species. In particular, competition between introduced and native species can strongly influence the distribution and spread of exotic species and in some cases competition among introduced species can be important. The Caribbean crazy ant, Nylanderia fulva, was recently introduced to the Gulf Coast of Texas, and appears to be spreading inland. It has been hypothesized that competition with the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, may be an important factor in the spread of crazy ants. We investigated the potential of interspecific competition among these two introduced ants by measuring interspecific aggression between Caribbean crazy ant workers and workers of Solenopsis invicta. Specifically, we examined the effect of body size and diet on individual-level aggressive interactions among crazy ant workers and fire ants. We found that differences in diet did not alter interactions between crazy ant workers from different nests, but carbohydrate level did play an important role in antagonistic interactions with fire ants: crazy ants on low sugar diets were more aggressive and less likely to be killed in aggressive encounters with fire ants. We found that large fire ants engaged in fewer fights with crazy ants than small fire ants, but fire ant size affected neither fire ant nor crazy ant mortality. Overall, crazy ants experienced higher mortality than fire ants after aggressive encounters. Our findings suggest that fire ant workers might outcompete crazy ant workers on an individual level, providing some biotic resistance to crazy ant range expansion. However, this resistance may be overcome by crazy ants that have a restricted sugar intake, which may occur when crazy ants are excluded from resources by fire ants.
Chemical suppression of arthropod herbivores is the most common approach to plant protection. Insecticides, however, can cause unintended, adverse consequences for non-target organisms. Previous studies focused on the effects of pesticides on target and non-target pests, predatory arthropods, and concomitant ecological disruptions. Little research, however, has focused on the direct effects of insecticides on plants. Here we demonstrate that applications of neonicotinoid insecticides, one of the most important insecticide classes worldwide, suppress expression of important plant defense genes, alter levels of phytohormones involved in plant defense, and decrease plant resistance to unsusceptible herbivores, spider mites Tetranychus urticae (Acari: Tetranychidae), in multiple, distantly related crop plants.
Mutualisms play key roles in the functioning of ecosystems. However, reciprocally beneficial interactions that involve introduced species also can enhance invasion success and in doing so compromise ecosystem integrity. For example, the growth and competitive ability of introduced plant species can increase when fungal or microbial associates provide limiting nutrients. Mutualisms also may aid animal invasions, but how such systems may promote invasion success has received relatively little attention. Here we examine how access to food-for-protection mutualisms involving the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) aids the success of this prominent invader. Intense interspecific competition in its native Argentina constrained the ability of S. invicta to benefit from honeydew-producing Hemiptera (and other accessible sources of carbohydrates), whereas S. invicta dominated these resources in its introduced range in the United States. Consistent with this strong pattern, nitrogen isotopic data revealed that fire ants from populations in the United States occupy a lower trophic position than fire ants from Argentina. Laboratory and field experiments demonstrated that honeydew elevated colony growth, a crucial determinant of competitive performance, even when insect prey were not limiting. Carbohydrates, obtained largely through mutualistic partnerships with other organisms, thus represent critical resources that may aid the success of this widespread invasive species. These results illustrate the potential for mutualistic interactions to play a fundamental role in the establishment and spread of animal invasions.
At temperate latitudes, vectors and pathogens must possess biological mechanisms for coping with cold temperatures and surviving from one transmission season to the next. Mosquitoes that overwinter in the adult stage have been proposed as winter maintenance hosts for certain arboviruses. In the cases of West Nile virus (family Flaviviridae, genus Flavivirus) and St. Louis encephalitis virus (family Flaviviridae, genus Flavivirus), discovery of infected overwintering females lends support to this hypothesis, but for other arboviruses, in particular Eastern equine encephalomyelitis virus (family Togaviridae, genus Alphavirus, EEEV), overwintering of the virus in mosquito hosts as not been demonstrated. In the current study, we collected overwintering mosquitoes from a focus of EEEV transmission in the southeastern United States to determine whether mosquitoes serve as winter maintenance hosts for EEEV and to document overwintering biologies of suspected vectors. No virus was detected via reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction of > 500 female mosquitoes collected during three winters. Investigation into the winter biologies indicated that Anopheles punctipennis (Say), Culex erraticus (Dyar & Knab), Culex peccator Dyar & Knab, and Uranotaenia sapphirina (Osten Sacken) overwinter as females. Females of these species were collected from hollow trees and emergence traps placed over ground holes. Southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora L., trees were preferred overwintering sites of culicine mosquitoes. Emergence from underground overwintering sites peaked in mid-March, when air temperatures reached 18-22 degrees C, and the first blood-engorged females of Cx. erraticus and Cx. peccator were collected during this same period. Blood-fed Culex territans Walker females were collected as early as mid-February. This work provides insight into the overwintering biologies of suspected virus vectors at a site of active EEEV transmission and provides limited evidence against the hypothesis that EEEV persists through intertransmission periods in overwintering mosquitoes.
Many arthropods engage in mutualisms in which they consume plant-based foods including nectar, extrafloral nectar, and honeydew. However, relatively little is known about the manner in which the specific macronutrients in these plant-based resources affect growth, especially for carnivorous arthropods. Using a combination of laboratory and field experiments, we tested (1) how plant-based foods, together with ad libitum insect prey, affect the growth of a carnivorous ant, Solenopsis invicta, and (2) which macronutrients in these resources (i.e., carbohydrates, amino acids, or both) contribute to higher colony growth. Access to honeydew increased the production of workers and brood in experimental colonies. This growth effect appeared to be due to carbohydrates alone as colonies provided with the carbohydrate component of artificial extrafloral nectar had greater worker and brood production compared to colonies deprived of carbohydrates. Surprisingly, amino acids only had a slight interactive effect on the proportion of a colony composed of brood and negatively affected worker survival. Diet choice in the laboratory and field matched performance in the laboratory with high recruitment to carbohydrate baits and only slight recruitment to amino acids. The strong, positive effects of carbohydrates on colony growth and the low cost of producing this macronutrient for plants and hemipterans may have aided the evolution of food-for-protection mutualisms and help explain why these interactions are so common in ants. In addition, greater access to plant-based resources in the introduced range of S. invicta may help to explain the high densities achieved by this species throughout the southeastern United States.
Long-lived animals, including social insects, often display seasonal shifts in foraging behavior. Foraging is ultimately a nutrient consumption exercise, but the effect of seasonality per se on changes in foraging behavior, particularly as it relates to nutrient regulation, is poorly understood. Here, we show that field-collected fire ant colonies, returned to the laboratory and maintained under identical photoperiod, temperature, and humidity regimes, and presented with experimental foods that had different protein (p) to carbohydrate (c) ratios, practice summer- and fall-specific foraging behaviors with respect to protein-carbohydrate regulation. Summer colonies increased the amount of food collected as the p:c ratio of their food became increasingly imbalanced, but fall colonies collected similar amounts of food regardless of the p:c ratio of their food. Choice experiments revealed that feeding was non-random, and that both fall and summer ants preferred carbohydrate-biased food. However, ants rarely ate all the food they collected, and their cached or discarded food always contained little carbohydrate relative to protein. From a nutrient regulation strategy, ants consumed most of the carbohydrate they collected, but regulated protein consumption to a similar level, regardless of season. We suggest that varied seasonal food collection behaviors and nutrient regulation strategies may be an adaptation that allows long-lived animals to meet current and future nutrient demands when nutrient-rich foods are abundant (e.g. spring and summer), and to conserve energy and be metabolically more efficient when nutritionally balanced foods are less abundant.
Circadian patterns of flight activity in mosquitoes can influence pathogen transmission by regulating dispersal potential of vectors and contact rates between vectors and reservoir and/or dead-end hosts. We investigated circadian activity patterns of Culex erraticus (Dyar and Knab) at a wetland field site in central Alabama, by aspirating resting adults and questing females in the morning and evening hours, respectively. Mosquitoes were aspirated at regular time intervals to determine the time of day during which peak resting site-seeking and host-seeking activities occurred. Day-to-day variation in activity patterns due to wind, humidity, and temperature was examined using stepwise linear regression. We found a distinct peak in flight activity during the morning hours (2 h before and 2 h after sunrise) for females and males of Culex erraticus, the most commonly encountered species at the site. The exact time of the peak varied from day to day, and was largely a function of temperature. A less distinct peak in activity was observed for questing females in the evening, although flights generally commenced just after sunset and peaked 30-60 min after sunset. A significant amount of day-to-day variation in the number of questing females was attributable to relative humidity. Our study demonstrates predictable patterns of circadian activity for Cx. erraticus, a suspected bridge vector of eastern equine encephalitis virus. Moreover, these patterns are modulated by environmental conditions. This information may be used to develop vector control strategies and make predictions about factors that affect the spread of mosquito-vectored pathogens.
Seasonal shifts in host use by mosquitoes from birds to mammals drive the timing and intensity of annual epidemics of mosquito-borne viruses, such as West Nile virus, in North America. The biological mechanism underlying these shifts has been a matter of debate, with hypotheses falling into two camps: (1) the shift is driven by changes in host abundance, or (2) the shift is driven by seasonal changes in the foraging behavior of mosquitoes. Here we explored the idea that seasonal changes in host use by mosquitoes are driven by temporal patterns of host reproduction. We investigated the relationship between seasonal patterns of host use by mosquitoes and host reproductive phenology by examining a seven-year dataset of blood meal identifications from a site in Tuskegee National Forest, Alabama USA and data on reproduction from the most commonly utilized endothermic (white-tailed deer, great blue heron, yellow-crowned night heron) and ectothermic (frogs) hosts. Our analysis revealed that feeding on each host peaked during periods of reproductive activity. Specifically, mosquitoes utilized herons in the spring and early summer, during periods of peak nest occupancy, whereas deer were fed upon most during the late summer and fall, the period corresponding to the peak in births for deer. For frogs, however, feeding on early- and late-season breeders paralleled peaks in male vocalization. We demonstrate for the first time that seasonal patterns of host use by mosquitoes track the reproductive phenology of the hosts. Peaks in relative mosquito feeding on each host during reproductive phases are likely the result of increased tolerance and decreased vigilance to attacking mosquitoes by nestlings and brooding adults (avian hosts), quiescent young (avian and mammalian hosts), and mate-seeking males (frogs).
The hypothesis that nestlings are a significant driver of arbovirus transmission and amplification is based upon findings that suggest nestlings are highly susceptible to being fed upon by vector mosquitoes and to viral infection and replication. Several previous studies have suggested that nestlings are preferentially fed upon relative to adults in the nest, and other studies have reported a preference for adults over nestlings. We directly tested the feeding preference of nestling and adult birds in a natural setting, introducing mosquitoes into nesting boxes containing eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis), collecting blood-fed mosquitoes, and matching the source of mosquito blood meals to individual birds using microsatellite markers. Neither nestlings nor adults were fed upon to an extent significantly greater than would be predicted based upon their relative abundance in the nests, although feeding upon mothers decreased as the age of the nestlings increased.
We tested whether the carbohydrate and amino acid content of extrafloral nectar affected prey choice by a predatory ant. Fire ants, Solenopsis invicta, were provided with artificial nectar that varied in the presence of carbohydrates and amino acids and were then provided with two prey items that differed in nutritional content, female and male crickets. Colonies of fire ants provided with carbohydrate supplements consumed less of the female crickets and frequently did not consume the high-lipid ovaries of female crickets. Colonies of fire ants provided with amino acid supplements consumed less of the male crickets. While a number of studies have shown that the presence of extrafloral nectar or honeydew can affect ant foraging activity, these results suggest that the nutritional composition of extrafloral nectar is also important and can affect subsequent prey choice by predatory ants. Our results suggest that, by altering the composition of extrafloral nectar, plants could manipulate the prey preferences of ants foraging on them.
Animals frequently experience resource imbalances in nature. For ants, one resource that may be particularly valuable for both introduced and native species is high-carbohydrate honeydew from hemipteran mutualists. We conducted field and laboratory experiments: (1) to test if red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) competed with native ants for access to mutualisms with aphids, and (2) to quantify the effects of aphid honeydew presence or absence on colony growth of native ants. We focused on native dolichoderine ants (Formicidae, Dolichoderinae) because they are abundant ants that have omnivorous diets that frequently include mutualist-provided carbohydrates. At two sites in the southeastern US, native dolichoderine ants were far less frequent, and fire ants more frequent, at carbohydrate baits than would be expected based on their frequency in pitfall traps. A field experiment confirmed that a native ant species, Dorymyrmex bureni, was only found tending aphids when populations of S. invicta were suppressed. In the laboratory, colonies of native dolichoderine ants with access to both honeydew and insect prey had twice as many workers and over twice as much brood compared to colonies fed only ad libitum insect prey. Our results provide the first experimental evidence that introduced ants compete for access to mutualist-provided carbohydrates with native ants and that these carbohydrates represent critical resources for both introduced and native ants. These results challenge traditional paradigms of arthropod and ant nutrition and contribute to growing evidence of the importance of nutrition in mediating ecological interactions.
In temperate regions, seasonal epidemics of many mosquito-borne viruses are triggered when mosquito populations shift from feeding on avian to mammalian hosts. We investigated effects of temperature on the timing of bird-to-mammal shifts using an 8 year dataset of blood-meals from a mosquito (Culex erraticus) in Alabama, USA. As expected, Cx. erraticus shifted from avian to mammalian hosts each year. The timing of the shift, however, varied considerably among years. Harshness of the preceding winter (chill accumulation) explained 93 per cent of the variation in the timing of bird-to-mammal shifts, with shifts occurring later in years following harsher winters. We hypothesize that winter temperatures drive the timing of bird-to-mammal shifts through effects on host reproductive phenology. Because mosquitoes target birds during the nesting season, and bird nesting occurs later in years following colder winters, later nesting dates result in a concomitant delay in the timing of bird-to-mammal host shifts. Global increases in winter temperatures could cause significant changes in the timing of seasonal host shifts by mosquitoes, with prolonged periods of epidemic transmission of mosquito-borne diseases.
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