Pine weevil feeding behaviour in relation to conifer plant properties

Abstract: The pine weevil (Hylobius abietis (L.)) is a forest insect distributed over the Palearctic region. The adults feed on the phloem of young conifer plants causing high economic losses for the European forest industry. Still, there is very little knowledge about the structure of its feeding behaviour. Feeding behaviour can be studied in several different temporal resolutions, from differences in feeding after several weeks to diel patterns and short-term feeding, i.e. feeding patterns at the level of feeding events and meals. The aim of this thesis was to increase the knowledge about the pine weevils’ feeding patterns and the underlying behavioural mechanisms. I studied the pine weevils’ time budget and diel behaviour as well as its short-term feeding behaviour based on video recordings. In addition, I assessed how changes in plant properties due to girdling or induction of plant defences with a chemical elicitor, methyl jasmonate (MeJA), affect the feeding pattern and preferences of the pine weevil. Pine weevils allocated only 6 % of the time to feeding. Most of the time was spent away from the plant (70 – 80 %). Damaged plants appeared to attract the weevils because they spent more time while not feeding on damaged plants than on undamaged plants. Feeding behaviour was mostly concentrated to the second half of the dark phase, after a peak of locomotion behaviour during the first part of the dark phase. During the light phase, pine weevils mostly rested. Analysis of the short-term feeding behaviour showed that pine weevils made 4-5 meals per day, removing about 13 mm2 during about 24 minutes in each meal. Some of the feeding properties, such as how much time was spent not feeding during a meal, differed between male and female weevils. Girdling did not affect the time budget or feeding properties. The induced plant defences with MeJA caused a reduction in meal duration. When meals consisting of only phloem, only needles or both were compared, the meal duration and the time until the initiation of a meal were more similar between the different meal contents on induced plants. In addition, the results from a no-choice and a choice experiment indicate that the protective effect of MeJA-induced defences is, besides an overall reduction of feeding, mainly due to the reduced amount that a pine weevil can feed at one place. Thus the risk of girdling and death of the plant is reduced.

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