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Using weapons instead of perfume: chemical association strategies of the myrmecophilous bug Scolopostethus pacificus (Rhyparochromidae)

Brückner, Adrian (2022) Using weapons instead of perfume: chemical association strategies of the myrmecophilous bug Scolopostethus pacificus (Rhyparochromidae). Chemoecology . ISSN 0937-7409. doi:10.1007/s00049-022-00374-8. (In Press)

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A vast diversity of parasites associates with ants. Living in and around ant nests of these organisms must overcome ant colony defenses. As ant defensive behavior is mainly mediated by species-specific cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) or alarm pheromones, and ant-associated parasites can either crack their hosts’ chemical communication code by modifying their own CHC profiles or use pro-active strategies like chemical weaponry for distraction and repellency. While the chemical nature of ant–parasite interactions has been intensively studied for highly host-specific parasites, the chemical-deceptive strategies of the rather rare ant-resembling heteropterans are unknown. To gain insight into this system, I studied the bug Scolopostethus pacificus (Barber 1918) which can be found near the nests of the ecologically dominant and aggressive velvety tree ant (Liometopum occidentale, Emery 1895). Using behavioral, chemical, and molecular approaches, I disentangled the relationship of S. pacificus and its host ant. Chemical profiling of the bug and the ant revealed that the bug does not make use of CHC insignificance or mimicry, but instead uses a cocktail of volatile compounds released from its metathoracic glands that likely moderates encounters with its aggressive host. Feeding trials with armed and artificially disarmed bugs revealed a defensive function of the gland exudates. Targeted molecular gut barcoding showed that S. pacificus does not feed on L. occidentale. These results suggest that chemical weaponry, rather than a chemical code-cracking CHC matching or chemical insignificance, enables S. pacificus to get along with and live in close proximity to its host ant.

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Brückner, Adrian0000-0002-9184-8562
Additional Information:© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022. Received 01 April 2022. Accepted 31 May 2022. Published 25 June 2022. Thanks to Joe Parker and Mina Yousefelahiyeh for discussion and technical assistance, respectively. Steven Wilbert contributed pictures, Tom Naragon kindly provided Platyusa sonomae from his lab cultures, and Betty Hong supplied analytical standards. Christiane Weirauch (UC Riverside) identified the bug species. Christoph von Beeren and Tom Naragon critically reviewed and commented on an earlier version of the manuscript. I was a Simons Fellow of the Life Sciences Research Foundation (LSRF) when I performed the research presented in this study. This research was supported by Simons Foundation (Grant LSRF-AB-2018). Ethics statement. There are no legal restrictions on working with the herein mentioned species. Field collection permissions were issues by California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Angeles National Forest (US Forest Service; USDA). The authors have not disclosed any competing interests.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Life Sciences Research FoundationLSRF-AB-2018
Simons FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Myrmecophile · Chemical defense · Symbioses · Ants · Chemical mimicry · Heteroptera
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20220722-769481000
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Official Citation:Brückner, A. Using weapons instead of perfume: chemical association strategies of the myrmecophilous bug Scolopostethus pacificus (Rhyparochromidae). Chemoecology (2022).
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:115796
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:22 Jul 2022 22:39
Last Modified:22 Jul 2022 22:39

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