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Intraspecific alkaloid variation in ladybird eggs and its effects on con- and hetero-specific intraguild predators


Egg predation and cannibalism are common phenomena in predatory ladybirds despite the presence of defensive alkaloids. Consumption of heterospecific eggs negatively affects survivorship and development; however, intraspecific variation in quantities of alkaloids and post-ingestion responses to con- and hetero-specific alkaloids, are not well understood. We examined variation in the quantity of alkaloids in eggs of Harmonia axyridis (Pallas), Coccinella septempunctata L., and Hippodamia convergens (Guérin) using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, and show a link between heterospecific alkaloids and their toxicity and/or costs by feeding high and low alkaloid eggs to first instar H. axyridis and C. septempunctata. The repeatability of alkaloid measurements in eggs in an egg cluster was high; however, the amount of alkaloids varied significantly between egg clutches within and among females. This variation affected egg consumption by C. septempunctata when fed H. axyridis eggs. Harmonia axyridis accumulated their own alkaloid by cannibalism and synthesized it de novo, but C. septempunctata lost some portion of the consumed conspecific alkaloids. Both species lost most of the consumed heterospecific alkaloids, but C. septempunctata died within 3 days. Most H. axyridis survived to the second instar, but C. septempunctata alkaloids led to a significant reduction in weight gain compared to an aphid control. In addition, ingestion of high alkaloid C. septempunctata extended development of H. axyridis compared to the aphid control or conspecific eggs. Harmonia axyridis had greater abilities to process ingested con- and hetero-specific alkaloids compared with C. septempunctata, which may, in part, explain their interspecific interactions in nature.

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We thank S. Moser, S. Stamper, S. Bessin, S. Sams, M. Eskelson, S. Romero, S. Colvin, J. Harwood, C. Fox, B. Wallin, T. Sutton and E. O’Neill for insect collections, laboratory arrangements and experimental help. We also thank two anonymous reviewers and editors for their very helpful comments on the manuscript. This experiment was supported by USDA-NRI (2007-02286). This paper is publication number 09-08-089 of the University of Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station.

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Correspondence to Yukie Kajita.

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Communicated by Richard Karban.

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Kajita, Y., Obrycki, J.J., Sloggett, J.J. et al. Intraspecific alkaloid variation in ladybird eggs and its effects on con- and hetero-specific intraguild predators. Oecologia 163, 313–322 (2010).

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  • Defensive alkaloids
  • Predatory ladybirds
  • Intraguild predation
  • Harmonia axyridis
  • Coccinella septempunctata