Parasitic wasps that develop inside herbivorous hosts alter the volatiles produced by plants in response to the damage, thus giving away the presence of the parasitoid larvae to their hyperparasitoid enemies.
Plants respond to herbivory with the emission of induced plant volatiles. These volatiles may attract parasitic wasps (parasitoids) that attack the herbivores. Although in this sense the emission of volatiles has been hypothesized to be beneficial to the plant, it is still debated whether this is also the case under natural conditions because other organisms such as herbivores also respond to the emitted volatiles. One important group of organisms, the enemies of parasitoids, hyperparasitoids, has not been included in this debate because little is known about their foraging behaviour. Here, we address whether hyperparasitoids use herbivore-induced plant volatiles to locate their host. We show that hyperparasitoids find their victims through herbivore-induced plant volatiles emitted in response to attack by caterpillars that in turn had been parasitized by primary parasitoids. Moreover, only one of two species of parasitoids affected herbivore-induced plant volatiles resulting in the attraction of more hyperparasitoids than volatiles from plants damaged by healthy caterpillars. This resulted in higher levels of hyperparasitism of the parasitoid that indirectly gave away its presence through its effect on plant odours induced by its caterpillar host. Here, we provide evidence for a role of compounds in the oral secretion of parasitized caterpillars that induce these changes in plant volatile emission. Our results demonstrate that the effects of herbivore-induced plant volatiles should be placed in a community-wide perspective that includes species in the fourth trophic level to improve our understanding of the ecological functions of volatile release by plants. Furthermore, these findings suggest that the impact of species in the fourth trophic level should also be considered when developing Integrated Pest Management strategies aimed at optimizing the control of insect pests using parasitoids.
In nature, plants often release volatiles in response to damage by herbivores (e.g., by caterpillars), and these can indirectly help defend the plants. Indeed, it is well documented that volatiles can recruit the natural enemies of herbivores, such as predators and parasitoid wasps, whose offspring feed on and develop within their caterpillar hosts. However, such induced plant odours can also be detected by other organisms. One important group of organisms, hyperparasitoids, the enemies of the parasitoids that indirectly benefit the plants, have not been included in this trophic web because so little is known about their foraging behaviour. Here, using a combination of laboratory and field experiments, we demonstrate that hyperparasitoid wasps also take advantage of the odours that plants produce in response to the feeding by caterpillars. The larvae of parasitic wasps developing inside the caterpillar alter the composition of the oral secretions of their herbivorous host and thereby affect the cocktail of volatiles the plant produces. The hyperparasitoids on the lookout for their parasitoid prey can preferentially detect infected caterpillars, although not all parasitoid wasps gave away their presence through this host–plant interaction. We conclude that herbivore-induced plant volatiles can affect the interaction among parasitoids and their enemies and thereby may reduce the indirect defence accrued for the plant.