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Bright autumn colours of deciduous trees attract aphids: nutrient retranslocation hypothesis

Authors

  • Jarmo K. Holopainen,

    1. Dept of Ecology and Environmental Science, Univ. of Kuopio, P.O. Box 1627, FIN-70211 Kuopio, Finland (jarmo.holopainen@uku.fi), (J. K. H, Agrifood Research Finland, Plant protection, FIN-31600 Jokioinen, Finland) (P. P., Finnish Forest Research Institute, Suonenjoki Research Station, Juntintie 40, FIN-77600 Suonenjoki, Finland).
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  • Petri Peltonen

    1. Dept of Ecology and Environmental Science, Univ. of Kuopio, P.O. Box 1627, FIN-70211 Kuopio, Finland (jarmo.holopainen@uku.fi), (J. K. H, Agrifood Research Finland, Plant protection, FIN-31600 Jokioinen, Finland) (P. P., Finnish Forest Research Institute, Suonenjoki Research Station, Juntintie 40, FIN-77600 Suonenjoki, Finland).
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Abstract

We propose an alternative hypothesis to the handicap-signalling hypothesis, to explain the high number of specialist aphids on tree species having bright autumn colour. Since birch aphids actively seek the first yellowing leaves for breeding in autumn, it is obvious that autumn colour of foliage does not repel migrating aphids. We suggest that aphids use bright colours as a cue to detect individual trees and leaves that are good sources of nitrogen in the form of amino acids in autumn. The active formation of bright-coloured pigments in leaves is needed to protect them from photo inhibition during energy consuming nutrient retranslocation under cold autumn conditions. During nutrient export from leaves, nitrogen is in the form of amino acids in the sieve elements and easily available for aphids. Therefore, bright colours may act as a signal of easily available high-quality food for viviparous aphid migrants that are selecting suitable trees for their sexual offspring reproduction. The females of sexual generation grown on the better quality food probably can oviposit the over-wintering eggs to the twigs in higher numbers, which may have an adaptive advantage in competition with conspecific females.

Ancillary