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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Chemical Constraints on the Evolution of Olfactory Communication Channels of Moths

Author
item Byers, John

Submitted to: Journal of Theoretical Biology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: February 1, 2005
Publication Date: June 6, 2005
Citation: Byers, J.A. 2005. Chemical constraints on the evolution of olfactory communication channels of moths. Journal of Theoretical Biology 235: 199-206.

Interpretive Summary: It is estimated there are over 100,000 moth species (Lepidoptera) that produce sex pheromones comprising communication channels used in specific-mate-recognition systems (SMRS) involved in prezygotic mating isolation and speciation. About 1572 moth species have been found to use 377 pheromone components, the majority being alcohols, aldehydes or acetate esters of olefinic chains of 10 to 22 carbons. Since there are limited numbers of possible unsaturated (double bonded) E- and Z-configured isomers of these chains, there may be constraints on incipient species evolving new pheromone components, especially if they are utilized by existing species. Here I develop algorithms that count and name all possible structures of chains with or without a functional group. The results show that for acetate esters there are only seven or nine monounsaturated isomers of six or seven carbon chains, respectively, suggesting use of these compounds could limit the number of communication channels available for radiation of new species (no moths use these short chains). For commonly used 14-carbon chains with an acetate ester functional group, and one to three unsaturations, there are 1039 isomers. A total of 2,096,883 isomers were counted from all multiply unsaturated 10 to 22-carbon chain acetate esters. The number of possible signals quickly extends into millions when considering pheromone blends of two to four components used by most species. There should be little chemical constraint on evolution of new communication channels based on compounds of 10 or more carbons, even for closely related species (e.g., ermine moths, Yponomeuta).

Technical Abstract: It is estimated there are over 100,000 moth species (Lepidoptera) that produce sex pheromones comprising communication channels used in specific-mate-recognition systems (SMRS) involved in pre-zygotic mating isolation and speciation. About 1572 moth species have been found to use 377 pheromone components, the majority being alcohols, aldehydes or acetate esters of olefinic chains of 10–22 carbons. Since there are limited numbers of possible unsaturated (double bonded) E- and Z-configured isomers of these chains, there may be constraints on incipient species evolving new pheromone components, especially if they are utilized by existing species. Here I develop algorithms that count and name all possible structures of chains with or without a functional group. The results show that for acetate esters there are only seven or nine monounsaturated isomers of six or seven carbon chains, respectively, suggesting use of these compounds could limit the number of communication channels available for radiation of new species (no moths use these short chains). For commonly used 14-carbon chains with an acetate ester functional group, and 1–3 unsaturations, there are 1039 isomers. A total of 2,096,883 isomers were counted from all multiply unsaturated 10–22-carbon chain acetate esters. The number of possible signals quickly extends into millions when considering pheromone blends of 2–4 components used by most species. There should be little chemical constraint on evolution of new communication channels based on compounds of 10 or more carbons, even for closely related species (e.g. ermine moths, Yponomeuta).

Last Modified: 4/16/2014
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