Effect of elevated atmospheric CO2 on oviposition behavior in Manduca sexta moths

Leif Abrell, Pablo G. Guerenstein, Wendy L. Mechaber, Gert Stange, Thomas A. Christensen, Koji Nakanishi, John G. Hildebrand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Moths can detect changes in environmental carbon dioxide (CO2) with extremely high sensitivity, but the role of CO2 in the biology of these and other insects is not well understood. Although CO2 has been demonstrated to influence egg-laying (oviposition) behavior of the pyralid moth Cactoblastis cactorum and nectar foraging of the sphingid moth Manduca sexta, information about the generalized role of CO2 in the behavioral biology of these species is lacking. Comparative data are necessary to properly assess how the behaviors of different species may be modified by steadily rising levels of greenhouse gases in the environment. Experiments carried out in Biosphere 2 addressed whether changes in ambient CO2 levels play a role in the oviposition behaviors of M. sexta moths. In the first series of experiments, oviposition was measured inside a flight cage with different levels of nearly ambient or elevated CO2 (400, 800 or 1200 ppm). For each concentration, hostplants used as oviposition sites were grown from seed at a CO2 level that matched the environment inside the flight cage. Under homogenous levels of CO2, we observed no significant difference in oviposition behavior at the concentrations tested. In a second series of experiments, two groups of hostplants, each surrounded by a mini free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) ring, were assembled inside a flight cage. In this choice test, a dynamic plume of artificially high CO2 was generated around one group of test plants, while ambient CO2 was released around the second (control) group. After eggs were counted on both plant groups, M. sexta females showed a small preference for ovipositing on the control plants. Therefore, in contrast to C. cactorum females tested under similar dynamic flow conditions, M. sexta female oviposition was not strongly inhibited by elevated CO2. To investigate this phenomenon further, we used electrophysiological recording and found that the CO2 receptor cells in M. sexta, unlike those in C. cactorum, are not readily affected by elevated levels of ambient CO2. These findings therefore suggest that elevated background levels of CO2 affect the physiology of the CO2 detection system of M. sexta to a lesser extent than that of C. cactorum, and this correlates well with the observed differences in oviposition behavior between the two species under elevated levels of environmental CO2. Hostplants of C. cactorum are crassulacean acid metabolism plants that generate nocturnal CO2 sinks on the cladode surfaces, whereas, M. sexta hostplants are nocturnal sources of respiratory CO2. We hypothesize that the abrupt and continuing increase in global ambient CO2 levels will differentially alter the behavior and physiology of moths that use CO2 sinks and sources as sensory cues to find hostplants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1272-1282
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2005


  • Datura
  • FACE
  • Labial palp
  • Lepidoptera
  • Manduca
  • Oviposition and elevated CO

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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