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A Gall-Inducing Caterpillar Species Increases Essential Fatty Acid Content of Its Host Plant Without Concomitant Increases in Phytohormone Levels

May 2009 , Volume 22 , Number  5
Pages  551 - 559

John F. Tooker and Consuelo M. De Moraes

Department of Entomology, Center for Chemical Ecology, 501 ASI Building, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park 16823, U.S.A.

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Accepted 9 January 2009.

Gall-inducing insects are accomplished plant parasites that can profoundly influence host-plant physiology. We recently reported that the caterpillar Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis failed to significantly alter emissions of host-plant volatiles that often recruit natural enemies of insect herbivores, and demonstrated that a caterpillar species feeding on linolenate-deficient plant tissues avoids inducing some of the indirect defenses of its host plant. Here, we investigate whether absence of volatile responses to the galler G. gallaesolidaginis could similarly be explained by a lack of linolenate in galls. We screened interior and exterior tissue of galls and control stems of Solidago altissima for free linolenate, linoleate, 12-oxo-phytodienoate, jasmonate, and salicylate. We found, unexpectedly, that G. gallaesolidaginis strongly increased amounts of linolenic and linoleic acids inside galls without associated increases in two downstream products, 12-oxo-phytodienoic or jasmonic acid. In contrast, the generalist caterpillar Heliothis virescens induced elevated levels of linolenic, linoleic, 12-oxo-phytodienoic, and jasmonic acids in S. altissima. Moreover, these two fatty acids and 12-oxo-phytodienoate were significantly and positively associated with jasmonic acid, suggesting that increased levels of these precursors can lead directly to greater amounts of jasmonic acid. Taken together, these findings suggest that gall insects may be able to nutritionally enhance their food source without inducing concomitant increases in phytohormones and associated defense responses.

© 2009 The American Phytopathological Society