Moths are exemplars of chemical communication, especially with regard to specificity and the minute amounts they use. Yet, little is known about how females manage synthesis and storage of pheromone to maintain release rates attractive to conspecific males and why such small amounts are used. We developed, for the first time, a quantitative model, based on an extensive empirical data set, describing the dynamical relationship among synthesis, storage (titer) and release of pheromone over time in a moth (Heliothis virescens). The model is compartmental, with one major state variable (titer), one time-varying (synthesis), and two constant (catabolism and release) rates. The model was a good fit, suggesting it accounted for the major processes. Overall, we found the relatively small amounts of pheromone stored and released were largely a function of high catabolism rather than a low rate of synthesis. A paradigm shift may be necessary to understand the low amounts released by female moths, away from the small quantities synthesized to the (relatively) large amounts catabolized. Future research on pheromone quantity should focus on structural and physicochemical processes that limit storage and release rate quantities. To our knowledge, this is the first time that pheromone gland function has been modeled for any animal.
Journal of Chemical Ecology – Springer Journals
Published: May 10, 2018
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