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Plant volatiles mediate attraction to host and non-host plant in apple fruit moth, Argyresthia conjugella


*Correspondence: Department of Crop Science, SLU, Box 44, 230 53 Alnarp, Sweden. E-mail:


Plant volatiles mediate host finding in insect herbivores and lead to host fidelity and habitat-specific mating, generating premating reproductive isolation and facilitating sympatric divergence. The apple fruit moth, Argyresthia conjugella Zeller (Lepidoptera: Argyresthiidae), is a particularly suitable species to study the cues and behavioural mechanisms leading to colonization of a new host: it recurrently oviposits on the non-host plant, apple Malus domestica Borkh. (Rosaceae), where the larvae cannot complete their development. The larval host of the apple fruit moth (Lepidoptera, Argyresthiidae), is rowan Sorbus aucuparia L. (Rosaceae). Fruit setting in rowan, however, fluctuates strongly over large areas in Scandinavia. Every 2–4 years, when too few rowanberries are available for egg laying in forests, apple fruit moth females oviposit instead on apple in nearby orchards, but not on other fruits, such as pear or plum. This poses the question of which cues mediate attraction to rowan and apple, and how apple fruit moth discriminates rowan from apple. Chemical analysis and antennal recordings showed that 11 out of 15 rowan volatiles eliciting an antennal response in A. conjugella females co-occur in rowan and apple headspace, in a different proportion. In the field, A. conjugella was attracted to several of these plant volatiles, especially to 2-phenyl ethanol, methyl salicylate, and decanal. Addition of anethole to 2-phenyl ethanol had a strong synergistic effect, the 1 : 1 blend is a powerful attractant for A. conjugella males and females. These results confirm that volatiles common to both plants may account for a host switch in A. conjugella from rowan to apple. Some of the most attractive compounds, including 2-phenyl ethanol, anethole, and decanal, which have been found in several apple cultivars, were not present in the headspace of the apple cultivar, Aroma, which is also susceptible to attack by A. conjugella. This supports the idea that the odour signal from apple is suboptimal for attraction of A. conjugella, but is nonetheless sufficient for attraction, during times when rowan is not available for egg laying.