Do plant volatiles confuse rather than guide foraging behavior of the aphid hyperparasitoid Dendrocerus aphidum?
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Many species of parasitoid wasps use plant volatiles to locate their herbivorous hosts. These volatiles are reliable indicators of host presence when their emission in plants is induced by herbivory. Hyperparasitoids may also use information from lower trophic levels to locate their parasitoid hosts but little is known about the role of volatiles from the plant–host complex in the foraging behavior of hyperparasitoids. Here, we studied how Dendrocerus aphidum (Megaspilidae) responds to plant and host volatiles in a series of experiments. This hyperparasitoid uses aphid mummies as its host and hampers biological control of aphids by parasitoids in greenhouse horticulture. We found that D. aphidum females were strongly attracted to volatiles from mummy-infested sweet pepper plants, but only when clean air was offered as an alternative odor source in the Y-tube olfactometer. Hyperparasitoid females did not have a preference for mummy-infested plants when volatiles from aphid-infested or healthy pepper plants were presented as an alternative. These olfactory responses of D. aphidum were mostly independent of prior experience. Volatiles from the host itself were also highly attractive to D. aphidum, but again hyperparasitoid females only had a preference in the absence of plant volatiles. Our findings suggest that plant volatiles may confuse, rather than guide the foraging behavior of D. aphidum. Mummy hyperparasitoids, such as D. aphidum, can use a wide variety of mummies and are thus extreme generalists at the lower trophic levels, which may explain the limited role of (induced) plant volatiles in their host searching behavior.