1 Department of Agroecology - Agrohydrology and Water Quality, Department of Agroecology, Science and Technology, Aarhus University2 Department of Plant Protection Biology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Guatemalan potato moth, Tecia solanivora, lay eggs in the soil nearby potato Solanum spp. and larvae feed on the tubers. We investigated the oviposition behaviour of T. solanivora females and the survival of larval offspring on healthy vs. stressed, i.e. light exposed and/or damaged potato tubers. In choice tests, females laid significantly more eggs in response to potato odour of healthy tubers and female oviposition preference correlated with higher larval survival. Survival of larvae was negatively correlated with the tuber content of the steroid glycoalkaloids α-solanine and α-chaconine: healthy potatoes contained lower amounts than stressed tubers, ranging from 25 to 500 μg g−1 and from 30 to 600 μg g−1, respectively. Analysis of volatile compounds emitted by potato tubers revealed that stressed tubers could clearly be distinguished from healthy tubers by the composition of their volatile profiles. Compounds that contributed to this difference were e.g. decanal, nonanal, isopropyl myristate, phenylacetaldehyde, benzothiazole, heptadecane, octadecane, myristicin, E,E-α-farnesene and verbenone. Oviposition assays, when female moths were not in contact with the tubers, clearly demonstrated that volatiles guide the females to lay fewer eggs on stressed tubers that are of inferior quality for the larvae. We propose that volatiles, such as sesquiterpenes and aldehydes, mediate oviposition behaviour and are correlated with biosynthetically related, non-volatile compounds, such as steroidal glycoalkaloids, which influence larval survival. We conclude that the oviposition response and larval survival of T. solanivora on healthy vs. stressed tubers supports the preference performance hypothesis for insect herbivores.