Could vectors' fear of predators reduce the spread of plant diseases?

G. Tholt, A. Kis, A. Medzihradszky, Szita, Z. Tóth, Z. Havelda, F. Samu

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Predators influence the behaviour of prey and by doing so they potentially reduce pathogen transmission by a vector. Arthropod predators have been shown to reduce the consumption of plant biomass by pest herbivores, but their cascading non-consumptive effect on vector insects' feeding behaviour and subsequent pathogen transmission has not been investigated experimentally before. Here we experimentally examined predator-mediated pathogen transmission mechanisms using the plant pathogen Wheat Dwarf Virus that is transmitted by the leafhopper, Psammotettix alienus. We applied in situ hybridization to localize which leaf tissues were infected with transmitted virus DNA in barley host plants, proving that virus occurrence is restricted to phloem tissues. In the presence of the spider predator, Tibellus oblongus, we recorded the within leaf feeding behaviour of the herbivore using electrical penetration graph. The leafhopper altered its feeding behaviour in response to predation risk. Phloem ingestion, the feeding phase when virus acquisition occurs, was delayed and was less frequent. The phase when pathogen inoculation takes place, via the secretion of virus infected vector saliva, was shorter when predator was present. Our study thus provides experimental evidence that predators can potentially limit the spread of plant pathogens solely through influencing the feeding behaviour of vector organisms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8705
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2018

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