Plant-emitted hydrocarbons mediate several key interactions between plants and insects. They enhance the ability of pollinators and herbivores to locate suitable host plants, and parasitoids to locate herbivores. While plant volatiles provide strong chemical signals, these signals are potentially degraded by exposure to pollutants such as ozone, which has increased in the troposphere and is projected to continue to increase over the coming decades. Despite the potential broad ecological significance of reduced plant signaling effectiveness, few studies have examined behavioral responses of insects to their hosts in polluted environments. Here, we use a laboratory study to test the effect of ozone concentration gradients on the ability of the striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma vittatum) to locate flowers of its host plant, Cucurbita foetidissima. Y-tube experiments showed that ozone mixing ratios below 80 parts per billion (ppb) resulted in beetles moving toward their host plant, but levels above 80 ppb resulted in beetles moving randomly with respect to host location. There was no evidence that beetles avoided polluted air directly. The results show that ozone pollution has great potential to perniciously alter key interactions between plants and animals.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Science(all)
- Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health