Sequestration of Glucosinolates and Iridoid Glucosides in Sawfly Species of the Genus Athalia and Their Role in Defense Against Ants

Sebastian E. W. Opitz, Søren Rosendal Jensen, Caroline Müller

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In this study, the larval sequestration abilities and defense effectiveness of four sawfly species of the genus Athalia (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) that feed as larvae either on members of the Brassicaceae or Plantaginaceae were investigated. Brassicaceae are characterized by glucosinolates (GLSs), whereas Plantaginaceae contain iridoid glucosides (IGs) as characteristic secondary compounds. Athalia rosae and A. liberta feed on members of the Brassicaceae. Larvae of A. rosae sequester aromatic and aliphatic GLSs of Sinapis alba in their hemolymph, as shown previously, but no indolic GLSs; A. liberta larvae with a narrower host range sequester aliphatic as well as indolic GLSs from their host plant Alliaria petiolata. Larvae of A. circularis and A. cordata are specialized on members of the Plantaginaceae. Athalia circularis utilizes mainly Veronica beccabunga as host plant, whereas A. cordata feeds additionally on Plantago lanceolata. Both sawfly species sequester the IGs aucubin and catalpol. In V. beccabunga, catalpol esters and carboxylated IGs also occur. The high catalpol concentrations in hemolymph of A. circularis can only be explained by a metabolization of catalpol esters and subsequent uptake of the resulting catalpol. The carboxylated IGs of the plant are excreted. The IG-sequestering sawfly species are able to accumulate much higher glucoside concentrations in their hemolymph than the GLS-sequestering species, and the concentration of IGs in hemolymph increases constantly during larval development. The defensive effectiveness of hemolymph that contains GLSs or IGs and of the respective glucosides was tested in feeding-bioassays against a potential predator, the ant Myrmica rubra (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Hemolymph of IG-sequestering cryptic A. cordata larvae has a higher deterrence potential than hemolymph of the GLSsequestering conspicuous A. rosae larvae. The results show that glucoside sequestration is widespread in the genus Athalia, but that the specific glucoside uptake can result in different defense effectiveness against a predator species.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)148-157
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Tenthredinidae
  • Hemolymph
  • Iridoid glucosides
  • Defense
  • Sequestration
  • Glucosinolates


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