Innate olfactory preferences for flowers matching proboscis length ensure optimal energy gain in a hawkmoth
OPEN Nature communications | 14 May 2016
A Haverkamp, J Bing, E Badeke, BS Hansson and M Knaden
Cost efficient foraging is of especial importance for animals like hawkmoths or hummingbirds that are feeding ‘on the wing’, making their foraging energetically demanding. The economic decisions made by these animals have a strong influence on the plants they pollinate and floral volatiles are often guiding these decisions. Here we show that the hawkmoth Manduca sexta exhibits an innate preference for volatiles of those Nicotiana flowers, which match the length of the moth’s proboscis. This preference becomes apparent already at the initial inflight encounter, with the odour plume. Free-flight respiration analyses combined with nectar calorimetry revealed a significant caloric gain per invested flight energy only for preferred-matching-flowers. Our data therefore support Darwin’s initial hypothesis on the coevolution of flower length and moth proboscis. We demonstrate that this interaction is mediated by an adaptive and hardwired olfactory preference of the moth for flowers offering the highest net-energy reward.
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