Assessing the Role of Developmental and Environmental Factors in Chemical Defence Variation in Heliconiini Butterflies

Type Article
Date 2021-06
Language English
Author(s) Sculfort OmbelineORCID1, 2, 3, McClure MelanieORCID1, 3, Nay BastienORCID2, 4, Elias MarianneORCID1, Llaurens ViolaineORCID1
Affiliation(s) 1 : Institut de Systématique, Evolution, Biodiversité (ISYEB), Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle, CNRS, Sorbonne-Université, EPHE, Université Des Antilles, 45 rue Buffon, 75005, Paris, France
2 : Unité Molécules de Communication Et Adaptations Des Micro-Organismes (MCAM), Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle, CNRS, 57 rue Cuvier (BP 54), 75005, Paris, France
3 : Laboratoire Écologie, Évolution, Interactions Des Systèmes Amazoniens (LEEISA), Université de Guyane, CNRS, IFREMER, 97300, Cayenne, France
4 : Laboratoire de Synthèse Organique, Ecole Polytechnique, CNRS, ENSTA, Route de Saclay, 91128, Palaiseau Cedex, France
Source Journal Of Chemical Ecology (0098-0331) (Springer Science and Business Media LLC), 2021-06 , Vol. 47 , N. 6 , P. 577-587
DOI 10.1007/s10886-021-01278-7
Keyword(s) Biosynthesis, Cyanogenic glucosides, Heliconiini, Sequestration

Chemical defences in animals are both incredibly widespread and highly diverse. Yet despite the important role they play in mediating interactions between predators and prey, extensive differences in the amounts and types of chemical compounds can exist between individuals, even within species and populations. Here we investigate the potential role of environment and development on the chemical defences of warningly coloured butterfly species from the tribe Heliconiini, which can both synthesize and sequester cyanogenic glycosides (CGs). We reared 5 Heliconiini species in captivity, each on a single species-specific host plant as larvae, and compared them to individuals collected in the wild to ascertain whether the variation in CG content observed in the field might be the result of differences in host plant availability. Three of these species were reared as larvae on the same host plant, Passiflora riparia, to further test how species, sex, and age affected the type and amount of different defensive CGs, and how they affected the ratio of synthesized to sequestered compounds. Then, focusing on the generalist species Heliconius numata, we specifically explored variation in chemical profiles as a result of the host plant consumed by caterpillars and their brood line, using rearing experiments carried out on two naturally co-occurring host plants with differing CG profiles. Our results show significant differences in both the amount of synthesized and sequestered compounds between butterflies reared in captivity and those collected in the field. We also found a significant effect of species and an effect of sex in some, but not all, species. We show that chemical defences in H. numata continue to increase throughout their life, likely because of continued biosynthesis, and we suggest that variation in the amount of synthesized CGs in this species does not appear to stem from larval host plants, although this warrants further study. Interestingly, we detected a significant effect of brood lines, consistent with heritability influencing CG concentrations in H. numata. Altogether, our results point to multiple factors resulting in chemical defence variation in Heliconiini butterflies and highlight the overlooked effect of synthesis capabilities, which may be genetically determined to some extent.

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