Selection of entomopathogenic nematodes for enhanced responsiveness to a volatile root signal helps to control a major root pest

Ivan Hiltpold, Mariane Baroni, Stefan Toepfer, Ulrich Kuhlmann, Ted C.J. Turlings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

53 Citations (Scopus)


The efficacy of natural enemies as biological control agents against insect pests can theoretically be enhanced by artificial selection for high responsiveness to foraging cues. The recent discovery that maize roots damaged by the western corn rootworm (WCR) emit a key attractant for insect-killing nematodes has opened the way to explore whether a selection strategy can improve the control of root pests. The compound in question, (ε)-ß- caryophyllene, is only weakly attractive to Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, one of the most infectious nematodes against WCR. To overcome this drawback, we used a six-arm below-ground olfactometer to select for a strain of H. bacteriophora that is more readily attracted to (ε)-ß-caryophyllene. After six generations of selection, the selected strain responded considerably better and moved twice as rapidly towards a (ε)-ß-caryophyllene source than the original strain. There was a minor trade-off between this enhanced responsiveness and nematode infectiveness. Yet, in subsequent field tests, the selected strain was significantly more effective than the original strain in reducing WCR populations in plots with a maize variety that releases (ε)-ß-caryophyllene, but not in plots with a maize variety that does not emit this root signal. These results illustrate the great potential of manipulating natural enemies of herbivores to improve biological pest control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2417-2423
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - Jul 15 2010



  • Artificial selection
  • Biological control
  • Diabrotica virgifera virgifera
  • Entomopathogenic nematode
  • Tritrophic interaction
  • Western corn rootworm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science

Cite this