Trade-off between sensitivity and specificity in the cabbage looper moth response to sex pheromone

Daniel J. Hemmann, Jeremy D. Allison, Kenneth F. Haynes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The evolution of male moth responses to pheromone blends may be constrained by a trade-off between two response traits: sensitivity and breadth of response. Population genetic simulations predict that if sensitivity and breadth of response are negatively correlated (i.e., a trade-off exists), then selection will favor males with narrow response phenotypes and high sensitivity. Although sensitivity-breadth of response trade-offs are generally assumed to exist and are implicit to the shape of male preference function, this study is the first to provide empirical support measuring behavior at the level of the individual. Previous studies with the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni, have documented the existence of a mutant pheromone strain. While mutant females produce a pheromone blend significantly different from wild-type females, mutant males respond equally to the wild-type and mutant pheromone blends. This study used wind tunnel bioassays to document that relative to wild-type males, mutant males had broader response profiles but lower pheromone sensitivity. While wild-type male responses were highest to the wild-type pheromone blend, mutant males did not discriminate among pheromone blends. These results are consistent with a trade-off between breadth of response and sensitivity. Pure wild-type and mutant lines were crossed and hybrid males assayed. Both hybrid types (maternal wild-type and maternal mutant hybrids) responded similarly. Hybrid males had response profiles similar to wild-type males and the reduced sensitivity observed in mutant males. These results suggest a possible hybrid disadvantage and a putative mechanism for reinforcement of male pheromone response traits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1476-1486
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments We are grateful to B. Chastain for reliable and invaluable technical assistance and to Drs. C. Gemeno and M. Evenden for comments and discussions. The research was supported by the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and a competitive grant from the USDA, Cooperative State Research and Extension Service (97-35302-4324).


  • Evolutionary trade-off
  • Lepidoptera
  • Pheromone sensitivity
  • Speciation
  • Trichoplusia ni
  • Wind tunnel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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