Plant iron acquisition strategy exploited by an insect herbivore

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Abstract

Insect herbivores depend on their host plants to acquire macro- and micronutrients. Here we asked how a specialist herbivore and damaging maize pest, the western corn rootworm, finds and accesses plant-derived micronutrients. We show that the root-feeding larvae use complexes between iron and benzoxazinoid secondary metabolites to identify maize as a host, to forage within the maize root system, and to increase their growth. Maize plants use these same benzoxazinoids for protection against generalist herbivores and, as shown here, for iron uptake. We identify an iron transporter that allows the corn rootworm to benefit from complexes between iron and benzoxazinoids. Thus, foraging for an essential plant-derived complex between a micronutrient and a secondary metabolite shapes the interaction between maize and a specialist herbivore.

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