The chemical signatures underlying host plant discrimination by aphids

D.P. Hopkins, D.D. Cameron, Roger Butlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The diversity of phytophagous insects is largely attributable to speciation involving shifts between host plants. These shifts are mediated by the close interaction between insects and plant metabolites. However, there has been limited progress in understanding the chemical signatures that underlie host preferences. We use the pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) to address this problem. Host-associated races of pea aphid discriminate between plant species in race-specific ways. We combined metabolomic profiling of multiple plant species with behavioural tests on two A. pisum races, to identify metabolites that explain variation in either acceptance or discrimination. Candidate compounds were identified using tandem mass spectrometry. Our results reveal a small number of compounds that explain a large proportion of variation in the differential acceptability of plants to A. pisum races. Two of these were identified as L-phenylalanine and L-tyrosine but it may be that metabolically-related compounds directly influence insect behaviour. The compounds implicated in differential acceptability were not related to the set correlated with general acceptability of plants to aphids, regardless of host race. Small changes in response to common metabolites may underlie host shifts. This study opens new opportunities for understanding the mechanistic basis of host discrimination and host shifts in insects.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8498
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2017


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