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, 57 (4), 747-54

Phloem-sap Feeding by Animals: Problems and Solutions


Phloem-sap Feeding by Animals: Problems and Solutions

A E Douglas. J Exp Bot.


The incidence of phloem sap feeding by animals appears paradoxical. Although phloem sap is nutrient-rich compared with many other plant products and generally lacking in toxins and feeding deterrents, it is consumed as the dominant or sole diet by a very restricted range of animals, exclusively insects of the order Hemiptera. These insects display two sets of adaptations. First, linked to the high ratio of non-essential:essential amino acids in phloem sap, these insects contain symbiotic micro-organisms which provide them with essential amino acids. For example, bacteria of the genus Buchnera contribute up to 90% of the essential amino acids required by the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum feeding on Vicia faba. Second, the insect tolerance of the very high sugar content and osmotic pressure of phloem sap is promoted by their possession in the gut of sucrase-transglucosidase activity, which transforms excess ingested sugar into long-chain oligosaccharides voided via honeydew. Various other animals consume phloem sap by proxy, through feeding on the honeydew of phloem-feeding hemipterans. Honeydew is physiologically less extreme than phloem sap, with a higher essential:non-essential amino acid ratio and lower osmotic pressure. Even so, ant species strongly dependent on honeydew as food may benefit from nutrients derived from their symbiotic bacteria Blochmannia.

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