The Mediterranean fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata (Wiedemann), displays a lek mating system characterized by a high level of female discrimination among potential mates. The basis of female choice is not understood, but recent studies indicate that male exposure to the aroma of certain plant structures or essential oils may increase mating success. In particular, exposure to the aroma of ginger root oil (GRO) enhances male mating frequency, and several sterile-male release programs against C. capitata have incorporated ‘aromatherapy’ (large-scale exposure of pre-release insects to GRO) to increase the effectiveness of control efforts. We investigated the mechanism underlying female preference for GRO-exposed males. Two sets of experiments were conducted. In the first, we monitored female attraction to (1) freshly killed flies, or (2) paper discs that contained hexane extracts from varying treatments. In these tests, females were sighted more often (1) near GRO-exposed than non-exposed males (even when the males were visually concealed) and (2) near extracts from GRO-exposed than non-exposed males. These findings suggest a ‘perfume effect’, whereby female mate choice is mediated by olfactory differences. In the second set, we compared (1) mate choice between intact females and females from which both antennae had been surgically removed, and (2) mating success between intact males and males from which both antennae had been surgically removed before GRO exposure. Intact females preferred GRO-exposed males, whereas females lacking both antennae rarely mated and showed no preference between GRO-exposed and non-exposed males. In the opposite treatment (intact females but surgically altered males), GRO-exposed males lacking both antennae mated as frequently as GRO-exposed intact males. These data suggest that female choice was dependent on olfactory perception of male odor but that male mating success did not depend on olfactory perception of GRO aroma, suggesting, in turn, that GRO conferred a mating advantage through an external phenomenon (possibly alteration of cuticular scent) rather than through internal processing (pheromone synthesis).
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