Free-Riding on Plant Security Countermeasures

There's a security story from biology I've used a few times: plants that use chemicals to call in airstrikes by wasps on the herbivores attacking them. This is a new variation: a species of orchid that emits the same signals as a trick, to get pollinated.

Posted on August 9, 2011 at 1:09 PM • 11 Comments

Comments

SeiranAugust 9, 2011 2:04 PM

It's almost like Batesian mimicry, but serving the end of a little parasitic behavior.

Life has long exploited signaling for their own benefit. Every level of life form, from the HIV virus to today's mammalian social-engineering professionals (hunters included) have figured out how to spoof attributes associated with, e.g. trusted peers. Likewise, peers that can participate in a symbiotic relationship will also establish signaling.

What surprises me is how fast organisms have been seen to evolve to do this, in the wild. These changes are occuring on a human time scale and are being observed in action.

NobodySpecialAugust 9, 2011 3:02 PM

@Seiran - I believe the "loser gets eaten" methodology leads to a rather rapid rate innovation.

So far the same thing hasn't been tried in the software engineering industry (except by the more extreme proponents of six-sigma.)

GoatRiderAugust 9, 2011 3:45 PM

I'd be interested in using this to spray on my Bonsai, to get the wasps to come in and eat aphids and mites. I found a bald-faced hornet nest in my maple tree one year, and since those aren't particularly aggressive and they were pollinating my raspberries, I left it alone. The next year, the maple gall infestation was gone. Apparently the hornets ate up all the mites that cause maple gall. That was far more effective than spraying for the mites.

Clive RobinsonAugust 9, 2011 4:34 PM

@ GoatRider,

"Apparently the hornets ate up all the mites that cause maple gall. That was far more effective than spraying for the mites."

With a couple oof constraints then yes using a natural preditor against a pest species is a very effective, and can be minimal impact environmentaly.

However go out side the constraints and the results can be an ecological disaster as has been seen many times.

I live in the south east of the UK and when I was young we had red squirrels living in the. local park that were sufficiently friendly that they would sit on you as you fed the penuts etc.

Sadly somebody introduced just a handfull of grey squirrels and they have pushed the red squirrels out od existance in most of mainland Britain.

Cat's in Australia and New Zealand decimated and made extinct many native species. Mice, rats rabbits foxes and deer are all species that have been introduced by man that have caused devistation.

Unfortunatly some scientists tried to correct mistakes by introducing preditor species to control the numbers of earlier accidentaly introduced species. However the forgot that once the preditor species had predated it's natural non native prey it was not going to die out it was going on to attack other defenseless native species.

Thus one of the constraints is not to use species that are not native to the environment, and there are a number of other equally important constraints.

simpsonsAugust 9, 2011 5:58 PM

Skinner: Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.
Lisa: But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're overrun by lizards?
Skinner: No problem. We simply release wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.
Lisa: But aren't the snakes even worse?
Skinner: Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
Lisa: But then we're stuck with gorillas!
Skinner: No, that's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

VlesAugust 10, 2011 6:59 AM

This story reminds me of the foreign USB stick tactic.

@Clive
In Australia especially Queensland (currently) it's the cane toad and the fire ant with the worst reputation. :)

GabrielAugust 10, 2011 8:52 AM

I thought I recalled a video in biology class where there is a flower that smells like rotting flesh in order to attract flies. The flies are lured in, and not released until they journey through the flower, collecting pollen.

anonymousAugust 11, 2011 4:43 AM

Orchids Mimic Green-Leaf Volatiles to Attract Prey-Hunting Wasps for Pollination
Current Biology 18, 740–744, May 20, 2008

Brodmann, et al try to show the attractiveness of an individual scent component (green-leaf volatiles) to specific pollinators (the social wasps Vespula germanica and V. vulgaris).

Floral scents do provide a good way to communicate with organisms across distances.

Perhaps the research shows:

1) The primacy of olfactory cues in the long-distance attraction of wasps.
2) Green-leaf volatiles attract prey-hunting Wasps.
3) Epipactis helleborine orchids release green-leaf volatiles.

However, in the section "The Importance of green-leaf volatiles for Wasp Attraction" the researchers do not prove the relative importance of green-leaf volatiles compared to nectar in attracting wasp pollinators. In fact, the study clearly states that "nectar of E. helleborine and other wasp-pollinated species could be different from that of flowers of species that are visited by other insect pollinators".

The research is interesting, but it does not come close to deciphering the orchid's use of green-leaf volatiles: What is the importance of green-leaf volatiles as a scent component? Which organisms do green-leaf volatiles attract or repel? How significant is habitat specificity's affect on E. helleborine pollination?

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