Royal Society Publishing

Predator-induced morphological shift in the pea aphid

Wolfgang W Weisser, Christian Braendle, Nicole Minoretti

Abstract

Aphids exhibit a polymorphism whereby individual aphids are either winged or unwinged. The winged dispersal morph is mainly responsible for the colonization of new plants and, in many species, is produced in response to adverse environmental conditions. Aphids are attacked by a wide range of specialized predators and predation has been shown to strongly influence the growth and persistence of aphid colonies. In two experiments, we reared two clones of pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) in the presence and absence of predatory ladybirds (Coccinella septempunctata or Adalia bipunctata). In both experiments, the presence of a predator enhanced the proportion of winged morphs among the offspring produced by the aphids. The aphid clones differed in their reaction to the presence of a ladybird, suggesting the presence of genetic variation for this trait. A treatment that simulated disturbance caused by predators did not enhance winged offspring production. The experiments indicate that aphids respond to the presence of a predator by producing the dispersal morph which can escape by flight to colonize other plants. In contrast to previous examples of predator-induced defence this shift in prey morphology does not lead to better protection against predator attack, but enables aphids to leave plants when mortality risks are high.

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