Tag Archives: alate exules

Not all aphids get eaten – “bottom-up” wins this time

In the lecture that I introduce aphids to our entomology MSc students I show them two quotes that illustrate the prodigious reproductive potential of these fantastic animals.

“In a season the potential descendants of one female aphid contain more substance than 500 million stout men “– Thomas Henry Huxley (1858) and “In a year aphids could form a layer 149 km deep over the surface of the earth.  Thank God for limited resources and natural enemies” – Richard Harrington (1994).

I was a little discomfited whilst researching this article to find that both Huxley and I had been short-changed, although the original quote does hint at the mortality factors that an aphid clone faces during its life.

The original words and the morphed ‘quote’

 

Both these quotes acknowledge the contribution that both bottom-up and top-down factors have on aphid populations.  For those not familiar with the ecological jargon, ecologists have at times over the last 40 years or so, got quite territorial* about whether herbivorous insect populations are regulated by top-down e.g. predators or bottom-up e.g. host plant quality, factors (e.g. Hunter & Price, 1992).  Who is in charge of an aphid clone’s destiny, natural enemies or the food plant?

Aphids are the favourite food of several insect species; ladybirds (but not all species), lacewing larvae, hoverfly larvae, and also the larvae of some Cecidomyiid flies (Aphidoletes spp.), and Chamaemyiid flies (e.g. Leucopis glyphinivora).  They are also attacked by other Hemipteran species, such as Anthocoris nemorum.   Those insects that make a living almost solely from aphids, are termed aphidophagous and every three years you can, if you feel like it, attend an international conference devoted to the subject 🙂

As well as these specialist predators, aphids are also preyed upon by more generalist predators, such as carabid and staphylinid beetles, harvestmen and spiders. Aphids also provide a nutritious snack for birds and bats.  Faced with all these hungry and voracious predators you might wonder why it is that aphids ever get numerous enough to become pests.  There are two answers, their fantastic reproductive rates and second, aphids, despite appearing soft and squishy, do have anti-predator defence mechanisms.  These range from kicking predators in the face, dropping off the plant, gumming up the jaws of predators by smearing them with wax from their siphunculi, and even jumping out of the way of the predator (Dixon, 1958).  On top of all that,  many are extremely unpalatable and even poisonous.

Some population modelling work from the 1970s explains why aphids can often become pests, as well as introducing us to the concept of population dynamics geography; the endemic and epidemic ridges, and my favourite, the natural enemy ravine (Southwood & Comins, 1976).

The geography of population dynamics from Southwood & Comins (1976)

 

They suggested that if enough predators are already present in the habitat or arrive shortly after the aphids, then the aphid population either goes extinct or only reaches the “endemic ridge”.  The phenomenal rate at which aphids can reproduce under favourable conditions, usually gets them past the “natural enemy ravine” and up into “epidemic ridge” with only a slight slowdown in population growth.   Evidence for the “natural enemy ravine” is not very convincing and I feel that the suggestion that the dip in population growth at the start of the season is due to intermittent immigration by winged aphids and not the action of polyphagous predators (Carter & Dixon, 1981) is pretty convincing.   That said, later modelling work suggested that the subsequent growth of aphid populations could be slowed down by the action of natural enemies Carter et al., 1982).

Aphids, despite their ability to produce baby aphids extremely quickly, are not equally abundant all year round. Those of us who want to collect aphids know that the best time of year is early in the season, spring and early summer.  This is the time when the plant sap is flowing quickly and is rich in nutrients, especially nitrogen, which aphids need in large quantities.    A characteristic of aphid populations is the way they suddenly disappear during July, a phenomenon known as the “mid-summer or mid-season crash”.  This is not just a phenomenon confined to aphids living on ephemeral herbaceous hosts, it happens to tree-dwelling aphids too e.g. the sycamore aphid, Drepanoisphum platanoidis.  At Silwood Park, where I monitored sycamore aphid populations on fifty-two trees for twenty years**, I saw the same pattern of a rapid build-up followed by an equally rapid collapse every year.  The pattern was the same in both high population and low population years and happened at pretty much the same time every year.  Herbivorous insects are, as you might expect, strongly

High and low population years of sycamore aphid, Drepanosiphum platanoidis at Silwood Park

affected by the quality of their host plant, the availability of nitrogen in the leaves being of most importance (Awmack & Leather, 2002).  Aphids are no exception, and their whole-life cycle is adapted to the ever-changing, but predictable availability of soluble nitrogen and water in their host plants (Dixon, 1977).  Plants become less suitable for aphids as their tissues mature and they lock their nitrogen away in the leaves and other structures, rather than transporting it around in the phloem as they do in spring and autumn (Dixon, 1976).

Aphids respond in two ways to a decline in the nutritional quality of their host plant, they reduce the number of offspring they produce (e.g. Watt, 1979) and those offspring they produce are winged (e.g. Parry, 1977), or if already winged, more likely to take flight and seek new better quality host plants (e.g. Dixon, 1969; Jarosik & Dixon, 1999).  In some aphids there is also an increase in intrinsic mortality (e.g. Kift et al., 1998).

The mid-season crash is not confined to abundant and common aphids, rare aphids show exactly the same changes in their populations, and this is similarly attributed to changes in the nutritional quality of the aphid host plant leading to increased dispersal (e.g. Kean, 2002).

Population crash of the rare aphid Paradoxaphis plagianthi in New Zealand (data from Kean, 2002).

Although some authors, notably Alison Karley and colleagues have suggested that it is the action of natural enemies and not host nutrition that drives the mid-season crash (Karley et al., 2003, 2004), the overwhelming evidence points to the production of winged (alate) morphs and their dispersal, being the major factor in causing the mid-season crash as the graphs below illustrate.

Cereal aphids on wheat showing increased alate production coinciding and subsequent population crash on cereal crops. Data from Wratten, 1975).

Green spruce aphid, Elatobium abietinum on Norway spruce at Silwood Park, showing the population crash and associated increase in the number of winged aphids. Data from Leather & Owuor (1996).

Green spruce aphid in Ireland, population crash associated with marked decline in fecundity and production of winged forms. Data from Day (1984)

Data presented by Way & Banks (1968) might lend some support to the idea that natural enemies cause the mid-season crash.  A close examination of the data however, which might at first glance suggest that keeping natural enemies away, allows aphid populations to prosper, reveals that the process of excluding natural enemies also prevents the dispersal of the winged aphids, which have no choice but to stay on the host plant and reproduce there.

Aphis fabae populations on Spindle bushes from Way & Banks (1968). Top line shows the population kept free of predators until August 2nd, bottom line, exposed to predators.

Moreover, as the authors themselves state “the rise to peak density in each year, coincided with an enormous increase in the proportion of individuals destined to become alatae” (Way & Banks, 1968).   I do not dispute that natural enemies have an effect on aphid populations, but in my opinion, the evidence does not support the hypothesis that they are the driving force behind the mid-season crash.  Rather, the major factor is the reduction in host quality, caused by a decline in the nutritional status of the plant and overcrowding of the aphids, leading to reduced fecundity and an increase in winged dispersers.

I don’t deny that the natural enemies do a very good mopping-up job of those aphids that are left behind, but they are not the force majeure by any stretch of the imagination. Most aphids do not get eaten 🙂

 

References

Awmack, C.S. & Leather, S.R. (2002) Host plant quality and fecundity in herbivorous insects. Annual Review of Entomology, 47, 817-844.

Carter, N. & Dixon, A.F.G. (1981) The natural enemy ravine in cereal aphid population dynamics: a consequence of predator activity or aphid biology? Journal of Animal Ecology, 50, 605-611.

Carter, N., Gardner, S.M., Fraser, A.M., & Adams, T.H.L. (1982) The role of natural enemies in cereal aphid population dynamics. Annals of Applied Biology, 101, 190-195.

Day, K.R. (1984) The growth and decline of a population of the spruce aphid Elatobium abietinum during a three  study, and the changing pattern of fecundity, recruitment and alary polymorphism in a Northern Ireland Forest. Oecologia, 64, 118-124.

Dixon, A.F.G. (1958) The escape responses shown by certain aphids to the presence of the coccinellid Adalia decempunctata (L.). Transactions of the Royal Entomological Society London, 110, 319-334.

Dixon, A.F.G. (1969) Population dynamics of the sycamore aphid Drepanosiphum platanoides (Schr) (Hemiptera: Aphididae); migratory and trivial flight activity. Journal of Animal Ecology, 38, 585-606.

Dixon, A.F.G. (1976) Factors determining the distribution of sycamore aphids on sycamore leaves during summer. Ecological Entomology, 1, 275-278.

Dixon, A.F.G. (1977) Aphid Ecology: Life cycles, polymorphism, and population regulation. Annual Review of Ecology & Systematics, 8, 329-353.

Harrington, R. (1994) Aphid layer. Antenna, 18, 50-51.

Hunter, M.D. & Price, P.W. (1992) Playing chutes and ladders – heterogeneity and the relative roles of bottom-up and top-down forces in natural communities. Ecology, 73, 724-732.

Huxley, T.H. (1858) On the agmaic reproduction and morphology of Aphis – Part I. Transactions of the Linnean Society London, 22, 193-219.

Jarosik, V. & Dixon, A.F.G. (1999) Population dynamics of a tree-dwelling aphid: regulation and density-independent processes. Journal of Animal Ecology, 68, 726-732.

Karley, A.J., Parker, W.E., Pitchford, J.W., & Douglas, A.E. (2004) The mid-season crash in aphid populations: why and how does it occur? Ecological Entomology, 29, 383-388.

Karley, A.J., Pitchford, J.W., Douglas, A.E., Parker, W.E., & Howard, J.J. (2003) The causes and processes of the mid-summer population crash of the potato aphids Macrosiphum euphorbiae and Myzus persicae (Hemiptera: Aphididae). Bulletin of Entomological Research, 93, 425-437.

Kean, J.M. (2002) Population patterns of Paradoxaphis plagianthi, a rare New Zealand aphid. New Zealand Journal of Ecology, 26, 171-176.

Kift, N.B., Dewar, A.M. & Dixon, A.F.G. (1998) Onset of a decline in the quality of sugar beet as a host for the aphid Myzus persicaeEntomologia experimentalis et applicata, 88, 155-161.

Leather, S.R. & Owuor, A. (1996) The influence of natural enemies and migration on spring populations of the green spruce aphid, Elatobium abietinum Walker (Hom., Aphididae). Journal of Applied Entomology, 120, 529-536.

Parry, W.H. (1977) The effects of nutrition and density on the production of alate Elatobium abietinum on Sitka spruce. Oecologia, 30, 637-675.

Southwood, T.R.E. & Comins, H.N. (1976) A synoptic population model.  Journal of Animal Ecology, 45, 949-965.

Watt, A.D. (1979) The effect of cereal growth stages on the reproductive activity of Sitobion avenae and Metopolphium dirhodum. Annals of Applied Biology, 91, 147-157.

Way, M.J. & Banks, C.J. (1968) Population studies on the active stages of the black bean aphid, Aphis fabae Scop., on its winter host Euonymus europaeus L. Annals of Applied Biology, 62, 177-197.

Wratten, S.D. (1975) The nature of the effects of the aphids Sitobion avenae and Metopolophium dirhodum on the growth of wheat. Annals of Applied Biology, 79, 27-34.

 

Post script

For those interested this is how Huxley arrived at his number of potential descendants, and here I quote from his paper,  “In his Lectures, Prof. Owen adopts the calculations taken from Morren (as acknowledged by him) from Tougard that a single impregnated ovum  of Aphis may give rise, without fecundation, to a quintillion of Aphides.” I have not, so far, been able to track down Tougard.

Morren, C.F.A. (1836) sur le Puceron du Pecher, Annales des Sciences Naturelle series 2. vi.

You may not know what a grain is, so to help you visualise it, 7000 grains equals a pound so 2 000 000 grains gives you 286 pounds, or 20 stone or approximately 130 Kg depending on where you come from J

 

*and generated some magnificent paper titles and quite acrimonious responses J Hassell, M.P., Crawley, M.J., Godfray, H.C.J., & Lawton, J.H. (1998) Top-down versus bottom-up and the Ruritanian bean bug. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 95, 10661-10664.

**A true labour of love as I also counted maple aphids, orange ladybirds, winter moth larvae and any of their predators and parasites that I came across J

 

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Filed under Aphidology, Aphids

Not all aphids get lost

Although aphids are very good at kicking, we know that aphids would not be very good at football as they are very short-sighted (Doring et al., 2008) but does that mean that they are not very good at finding their host plants? There is a common misperception, and not just confined to non-entomologists, that aphids are no more than aerial plankton. In 1924 Charles Elton

Lost 1

whilst on an expedition to Nordaustlandet* (the second largest of the Spitsbergen group and almost entirely covered by ice) reported finding large numbers of aphids, many still alive, later identified as Dilachnus piceae (now known as Cinara piceae) (Elton, 1925).

Lost 2

Cinara piceae the Greater Black Spruce Aphid –big and beautiful.

 

He suggested that the aphids came from the Kola Peninsula, a distance of about 800 miles (almost 1300 km) due to the strong south and south-east winds blowing at the time. He estimated that they would have made the journey within twelve to twenty-four hours. This was regarded as being an example of totally passive migration and used as one of many examples of aerial plankton** (Gislen, 1948). This is, however, probably not giving aphids credit for what they are capable of doing when it comes to flight. Berry & Taylor (1968), who sampled aphids at 610 m above the grounds using aeroplanes, implied that the aphids, although using jet streams, were flying rather than floating (page 718 and page 720) and that they would descend to the ground in the evening and not fly during the night.

Lost 3

Aphids don’t usually fly during the night. (From Berry & Taylor (1968)).

Dixon (1971) interprets this somewhat differently and suggests that the “movement of the air in which it is flying determines the direction of its flight and the distance it will travel” but then goes on to say “after flying for an hour or two aphids settle indiscriminately on plants”. So yes the speed of the air in which the aphid is flying will determine how far it flies in a set time, but as aphids can fly much longer than an hour or two, active flights of from between 7-12 hours have been recorded (Cockbain, 1961), this rather suggests that the aphids are making a “decision” to stop flying and descend from the jet stream. That said, in the words of the great C.G. Johnson “aphids are weak flyers”, they cannot make progress against headwinds of more than 2 km per hour (Johnson, 1954), although Trevor Lewis gives them slightly more power and suggests that the can navigate against winds of up to 3 km per hour (Lewis, 1964).

Whatever the upper limit is, it doesn’t mean that they are powerless when it comes to ‘deciding’ when to stop flying. In the words of Hugh Loxdale and colleagues, “aphids are not passive objects” (Loxdale et al, 1993). Aphidologists, were until the 1980s (Kennedy, 1986), generally somewhat sceptical about the ability of aphids to direct their flight in relation to specific host finding from the air and not just flying towards plants of the right colour (Kennedy et al., 1961), or at all after take-off (Haine, 1955). The general consensus now, is that aphids control the direction of their flight in the boundary layer*** but that it is determined by the wind at higher altitudes (Loxdale et al., 1993).   Whilst we are discussing viewpoints, another point of debate is on whether aphids migrate or not. Loxdale et al., (1993) state that “migration can be viewed ecologically as population redistribution through movement, regardless of whether deliberate of uncontrolled or from the behavioural viewpoint of a persistent straightened-out movement affected by the animal’s own locomotory exertions or by its active embarkation on a vehicle”. In the case of aphids the vehicle could be the wind. Under both definitions, aphids can be defined as undertaking migrations. Long-distance migration by aphids is defined as being greater than 20 km and short-distance (local) migration being less than this (Loxdale et al., 1993). Long-distance migration is likely to be the exception rather than the rule with most aphids making local flights and not venturing out of the boundary layer, sometimes travelling distances no more than a few hundred metres (Loxdale et al., 1993).

There are different types of winged aphids (morphs) and these show different angles of take-off and rates of climb.  In Aphis fabae for example, which host –alternates between spindle and bean, the gynoparae which migrate from the secondary host to the primary host, have a steeper angle of take-off and climb more rapidly than the alate exules which only disperse between the secondary host plants (David & Hardie, 1988).

Lost 4

http://influentialpoints.com/Images/Rhopalosiphum_padi_emigrant_alate_departing_from_primary_host_c2013-05-21_11-25-12ew.jpg

The gynoparae are thus much more likely to end up in the jet stream and be carried longer distances, with, of course, a greater chance of getting lost (Ward et al., 1998). The alate exules however, may only land in the next field or even in the same one, and easily find a new host plant (Loxdale et al., 1993). These differences between the morphs of host alternating aphids are also seen in the bird cherry-oat aphid Rhopalosiphum padi (Nottingham et al., 1991).  Once safely air-borne, the aphids then have another set of problems to overcome.

How do they ‘decide’ when to land? How do they ‘know’ that there are host plants below them? Aphids have two main senses that help them locate their host plants, vision and smell (odour recognition) (Kring, 1972; Döring, 2014). Generally speaking, aphids respond positively to what we perceive as green or yellow light and negatively to blue and red light (Döring & Chittka, 2007) although this is not an absolute rule. Some aphids are known to preferentially choose yellowing leaves (sign of previous infestation) e.g. Black Pecan Aphid Melanocallis caryaefoliae (Cottrell et al., 2009) which indicates a pretty sophisticated host finding suite of behaviours. Aphids in flight chambers will delay landing if presented with non-host odours even in the presence of a green target (Nottingham & Hardie, 1993) and conversely can be attracted to colourless water traps that have been scented with host plant odours (Chapman et al., 1981). Aphids are thus using both visual and olfactory cues to locate their host plants and to ‘decide’ when to descend from the jet stream or boundary layer (Kring, 1972; Döring, 2014). They are not merely aerial plankton, nor are they entirely at the mercy of the winds, they do not deserve to be described as passive (Reynolds & Reynolds, 2009).

Once at ground level and on a potential host plant, aphids go through a complicated suite of behaviours to determine if the host is suitable or not; if the plant meets all the required

Lost 5

From air to plant – how aphids chose their host plants – after Dixon (1973).

 

criteria, then the aphid will start feeding and reproducing. It is interesting to note that although there may be a lot of aphids in the air, the number of plants on the ground that

Lost 6

Settled safely and producing babies 🙂

http://beyondthehumaneye.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/aphids.html  https://simonleather.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/cd0a4-aphidbirth2small.jpg

 

are infested with them is relatively low, about 10% in a diverse landscape (Staab et al., 2015), although in a crop, the level of infestation can approach 100% (e.g. Carter et al., 1980). The fact that in some cases less than 1% of those that set off will have found a host plant (Ward et al., 1998) is not a problem when you are a member of clone; as long as not all of the members of a clone gets lost the journey has been a success.

They may be small, they may be weak flyers, but enough of them find a suitable host plant to keep the clone alive and kicking; not all aphids get lost.

 

References

Carter, N., Mclean, I.F.G., Watt, A.D., & Dixon, A.F.G. (1980) Cereal aphids – a case study and review. Applied Biology, 5, 271-348.

Chapman, R.F., Bernays, E.A., & Simpson, S.J. (1981) Attraction and repulsion of the aphid, Cavariella aegopodii, by plant odors. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 7, 881-888.

Cockbain, A.J. (1961) Fuel utilization and duration of tethered flight in Aphis fabae Scop. Journal of Experimental Biology, 38, 163-174.

Cottrell, T.E., Wood, B.W. & Xinzhi, N. (2009) Chlorotic feeding injury by the Black Pecan Aphid (Hemiptera: Aphididae) to pecan foliage promotes aphid settling and nymphal development. Environmental Entomology, 38, 411-416

David, C.T. & Hardie, J. (1988) The visual responses of free-flying summer and autumn forms of the black bean aphid, Aphis fabae, in an automated flight chamber. Physiological Entomology, 13, 277-284.

Dixon, A.F.G. (1971) Migration in aphids. Science Progress, Oxford, 59, 41-53.

Dixon, A.F.G. (1973) Biology of Aphids, Edward Arnold, London.

Döring, T.F. & Chittka, L. (2007) Visual ecology of aphids – a classcial review on the role of colours in host finding. Arthropod-Plant Interactions, 1, 3-16.

Döring, T., Hardie, J., Leather, S.R., Spaethe, J., & Chittka, L. (2008) Can aphids play football? Antenna, 32, 146-147.

Döring, T. (2014) How aphids find their host plants, how they don’t. Annals of Applied Biology, 165, 3-26.

Elton, C.S. (1925) The dispersal of insects to Spitsbergen. Transactions of the Entomological Society of London, 73, 289-299.

Gislen, T. (1948) Aerial plankton and its conditions of life. Biological Reviews, 23, 109-126.

Haine, E. (1955) Aphid take-off in controlled wind speeds. Nature, 175, 474-475

Johnson, C.G. (1951) The study of wind-borne insect populations in relation to terrestrial ecology, flight periodicity and the estimation of aerial populations. Science Progress, 39, 41-62.

Johnson, C.G. (1954) Aphid migration in relation to weather. Biological Reviews, 29, 87-118

Kennedy, J. S., Booth, C. O. & Kershaw, W. J. S. (1961). Host finding by aphids in the field III Visual attraction. Annals of Applied Biology, 49, 1-21.

Kring, J.B. (1972) Flight behavior of aphids. Annual Review of Entomology, 17, 461-492.

Lewis, T. (1964) The effects of shelter on the distribution of insect pests. Scientific Horticulture, 17, 74-84

Loxdale, H. D., Hardie, J., Halbert, S., Foottit, R., Kidd, N. A. C. &Carter, C. I. (1993).The relative importance of short-range and long-range movement of flying aphids. Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 68, 291-312.

Nottingham, S.F., Hardie, J. & Tatchell, G.M. (1991) Flight behaviour of the bird cherry aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi. Physiological Entomology, 16, 223-229.

Reynolds, A.M. & Reynolds, D.R. (2009)  Aphid aerial desnsity profiles are consistent with turbulent advection amplifying flight behaviours: abandoning the epithet ‘passive’. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 276, 137-143.

Staab, M., Blüthgen, N., & Klein, A.M. (2015) Tree diversity alters the structure of a tri-trophic network in a biodiversity experiment Oikos, 124, 827-834.

Ward, S.A., Leather, S.R., Pickup, J., & Harrington, R. (1998) Mortality during dispersal and the cost of host-specificity in parasites: how many aphids find hosts? Journal of Animal Ecology, 67, 763-773.

 

Post script

Political and geographic borders are not factors that deter aphid migrants, Wiktelius (1984) points out that aphids regularly make the journey across the Baltic in both directions to and from Sweden.

Wiktelius, S. (1984) Long range migration of aphids into Sweden. International Journal of Biometeorology, 28, 185-200.

 

*Elton refers to it as North-East Land

** Johnson (1951) objects to this terminology in no uncertain terms. That said, as there are records of non-winged aphids being caught by aircraft (Kring, 1972), it does suggest that there may be some accidental migration going on.

*** The UK Met Office defines the boundary layer as “that part of the atmosphere that directly feels the effect of the earth’s surface” and goes on to say that depending on local conditions it can range in depth from a few metres to several kilometres.

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Filed under Aphidology, Aphids