More than just sugar: Allocation of nectar amino acids and fatty acids in a lepidopteran

Eran Levin, Marshall D. McCue, Goggy Davidowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


The ability to allocate resources, even when limited, is essential for survival and fitness. We examine how nutrients that occur in minute amounts are allocated among reproductive, somatic, and metabolic demands. In addition to sugar, flower nectars contain two macronutrients—amino acids and fatty acids. We created artificial nectars spiked with13C-labelled amino acids and fatty acids and fed these to adult moths (Manduca sexta: Sphingidae) to understand how they allocate these nutrients among competing sinks (reproduction, somatic tissue, and metabolic fuel). We found that both essential and nonessential amino acids were allocated to eggs and flight muscles and were still detectable in early-instar larvae. Parental-derived essential amino acids were more conserved in the early-instars than non-essential amino acids. All amino acids were used as metabolic fuel, but the non-essential amino acids were oxidized at higher rates than essential amino acids. Surprisingly, the nectar fatty acids were not vertically transferred to offspring, but were readily used as a metabolic fuel by the moth, minimizing losses of endogenous nutrient stores. We conclude that the non-carbohydrate components of nectar may play important roles in both reproductive success and survival of these nectar-feeding animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20162126
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1848
StatePublished - Feb 8 2017


  • Allocation
  • Amino acids
  • Fatty acids
  • Lepidoptera
  • Nectar
  • Stable isotope

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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