Aphids manipulate their food

August 1, 2018, Bielefeld University
Aphid infestation of the stem close to the bud of a tansy. Credit: Bielefeld University/Jana Stallmann

How do aphids reproduce on plants so successfully? This is among the questions that Professor Dr. Caroline Müller and her research team are addressing at Bielefeld University's Faculty of Biology. They have discovered that aphids are able to influence the quality of their food, and that this may enable them to construct a niche on their own host plants. Müller's research team is located in the Transregio Collaborative Research Centre NC3 that is studying animals and their individual niches. They have published their findings in the journal New Phytologist.

There are hundreds of aphid species. They all feed on plant sap, known as phloem sap. The nutritional value of the phloem sap is determined by the sugar concentration and the concentration and of . Previously, it was not known how the quality of plant sap changes in different plant parts after aphid infestation, how this change in quality influences the development of aphids, and how, in turn, the aphids can change the composition of the plant sap.

Müller and her team are the first to confirm that aphid infestation actually does change the composition of the plant sap depending on which aphid species is infesting which specific part of the plant. For example, infestation of the stem close to the bud with a certain aphid species changes the composition of sugar and organic acids in the sap. In contrast, infestation of the old leaves with another aphid species increases the concentration of amino acids. And a further phenomenon can also be ascertained: "We were able to observe that the species that developed best on the stem close to the bud and the other that proliferated best on the old leaves each specifically increased the quality of the plant sap of the corresponding plant part," says Ruth Jakobs, a research assistant at the Faculty of Biology. Hence, aphids construct their own niche in such a way that they are able to profit from it. "We can assume that aphids behave in a similar way to, for example, beavers that settle in the dams they have constructed themselves," says Müller.

The biologists gained their findings by placing aphids on different parts of common tansy —the stem close to the bud, a young leaf, and an old leaf—and determining the growth of the populations of these insects at these locations. In addition, the biologists collected the plant sap and analysed its chemical composition.

Explore further: Protein restricts sap uptake by aphids

More information: Ruth Jakobs et al, Aphid infestation leads to plant part-specific changes in phloem sap chemistry, which may indicate niche construction, New Phytologist (2018). DOI: 10.1111/nph.15335

Related Stories

Protein restricts sap uptake by aphids

October 10, 2017

Researchers at Umeå University and Wageningen University have discovered how plants can defend themselves against aphids. They recorded aphid behavior on video, and identified a plant protein that keeps aphids from feeding. ...

The betrayal of the aphids

June 2, 2014

Aphids are devastating insect pests and cause great losses to agriculture worldwide. These sap-feeding plant pests harbor in their body cavity bacteria, which are essential for the aphids' fecundity and survival. Buchnera, ...

Milkweed defensive strategy drives away friends of enemies

March 15, 2017

Over millions of years under attack from insects, milkweed plants have developed considerable defenses. These include incredible toxicity – sufficient to kill a horse or sheep – which emanates from a milkweed's leaves ...

Recommended for you

New technique promises more accurate genomes

October 23, 2018

University of Adelaide researchers have developed a new technique that will aid in a more accurate reconstruction of human genomes by determining the exact sections of the genome that come from each parent.

Breakthrough test screens for all known bacterial infections

October 23, 2018

Scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) in the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health have developed the first diagnostic platform that can simultaneously screen for all known human pathogenic ...

Studying the hotbed of horizontal gene transfers

October 23, 2018

For over 200,000 years, humans and their gut microbiomes have coevolved into some of the most complex collections of living organisms on the planet. But as human lifestyles vary from the urban to rural, so do the bacterial ...

Researchers have discovered a new cell structure

October 23, 2018

A new structure in human cells has been discovered by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden in collaboration with colleagues in the U.K. The structure is a new type of protein complex that the cell uses to attach ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.