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How to fight multiple enemies : target-specific chemical defences in an aposematic moth [Proceedings of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences]

Keywords : predator–prey interactions, chemical defences, aposematism, pyrazines

par Frédéric Magné - publié le

Animals have evolved different defensive strategies to survive predation, among which chemical defences are particularly widespread and diverse. Here we investigate the function of chemical defence diversity, hypothesizing that such diversity has evolved as a response to multiple enemies. The aposematic wood tiger moth (Arctia plantaginis) displays conspicuous hindwing coloration and secretes distinct defensive fluids from its thoracic glands and abdomen. We presented the two defensive fluids from laboratory-reared moths to two biologically relevant predators, birds and ants, and measured their reaction in controlled bioassays (no information on colour was provided). We found that defensive fluids are target-specific : thoracic fluids, and particularly 2-sec-butyl-3-methoxypyrazine, which they contain, deterred birds, but caused no aversive response in ants. By contrast, abdominal fluids were particularly deterrent to ants, while birds did not find them repellent. Our study, to our knowledge, is the first to show evidence of a single species producing separate chemical defences targeted to different predator types, highlighting the importance of taking into account complex predator communities in studies on the evolution of prey defence diversity.

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