Olfactory learning of plant genotypes by a polyphagous insect predator

Oecologia. 2011 Jul;166(3):637-47. doi: 10.1007/s00442-010-1892-x. Epub 2011 Jan 4.


Olfactory learning may allow insects to forage optimally by more efficiently finding and using favourable food sources. Although olfactory learning has been shown in bees, insect herbivores and parasitoids, there are fewer examples from polyphagous predators. In this study, olfactory learning by a predatory coccinellid beetle is reported for the first time. In laboratory trials, adults of the aphidophagous ladybird Coccinella septempunctata did not prefer the odour of one aphid-infested barley cultivar over another. However, after feeding on aphids for 24 h on a cultivar, they preferred the odour of that particular cultivar. The mechanism appeared to be associative learning rather than sensitisation. Although inexperienced ladybirds preferred the odour of an aphid-infested barley cultivar over uninfested plants of the same cultivar, after feeding experience on a different cultivar this preference disappeared. This may indicate the acquisition and replacement of olfactory templates. The odour blends of the different aphid-infested barley cultivars varied qualitatively and quantitatively, providing a potential basis for olfactory discrimination by the ladybird. The results show that predatory coccinellids can learn to associate the odour of aphid-infested plants with the presence of prey, and that this olfactory learning ability is sensitive enough to discriminate variability between different genotypes of the same plant.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aphids / physiology
  • Association Learning
  • Coleoptera / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences
  • Genotype
  • Hordeum / genetics
  • Male
  • Odorants
  • Predatory Behavior