Sara Hermann

The smell of predators can alert prey of potential danger

contrubuted by Sara Hermann


Agriculture, Animals, Behavior, Behavioral Ecology, Chemical ecology, Communication, Community ecology, Consumption, Ecology, Experimental, Family, First generation, Indirect, Interactions, Lab, North America, Physiological/organismal ecology, Predator-Prey, Terrestrial, Trait-mediated, Woman


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Other Resources

Hermann, S.L., & Thaler, J.S. 2014. Prey perception of predation risk: volatile chemical cues mediate non-consumptive effects of a predator on a herbivorous insect. Oecologia 176:669–676.

Presentation Notes

Researcher’s Background

Sara is an insect ecologist at Michigan State University studying chemically mediated behavioral and physiological effects of predation risk on insect prey in agroecosystems!

PB: Why did you become a biologist?

SH: I have always been fascinated by animal behavior and environmental sustainability. I became a biologist when I realized that I could have a job doing research in animal behavior and ecology that allows me to answer questions about basic science and hopefully help inform policy that can lead to sustainable methods of pest management! 

PB: What is your favorite part about your job?

SH: I love the creativity that my job requires. It is extremely fun to present myself with a complicated question and design ways to try to answer it. It is like solving a puzzle that has a bonus prize at the end of possibly being able to help others!

PB: What obstacles have you overcome to get where you are?

SH: I am a first generation college student, which made navigating undergraduate and beyond challenging. But, asking for guidance from awesome professors really helped me reach my goals!

PB: What advice do you have for aspiring biologists?

SH: Prioritize things that give you the most anxiety first and work with people that will keep you learning and aspiring for more. And, keep your eyes open wide, observations and natural history are so important!!

PB: Do you feel that any dimension of your identity is invisible or under-represented/marginalized in STEM?

SH: As a woman and young mother in STEM, I have definitely felt marginalized at times.

Research Overview

Take home message of study

Spined soldier bugs are common predators of the Colorado potato beetle. In an effort to avoid predation, Colorado potato beetles alter their feeding behavior to become less conspicuous. We found that the beetles detect predation risk by eavesdropping on the smell of these stink bug predators and that male stink bug scent causes larger reductions in feeding than the scent of females! 

Study system

The spined soldier bug, Podisus maculiventris, feeding on the Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata on a potato leaf. 

Key Research Points

Main figure

Top: Graphic of experimental setup. Air from glass jars containing stink bug predators (predator odor treatment) or odor controls (empty glass jars) was blown into boxes containing beetle larva feeding on leaves to identify if predator odors alter feeding behavior. Bottom: Leaf area removed by Colorado potato beetle larvae in response to volatile chemical odors from Spined soldier bug predators versus control (blank) air. A. Effect of control air versus mixed sex stink bugs on beetle feeding. B. Effect of control air versus male stink bugs on beetle feeding. C. Effect of control air versus female stink bugs on beetle feeding. Bars mean (±1SE). Asterisks above bars indicates statistically significant difference between treatments.

Societal Relevance

By examining how predators can impact prey in ways other than consumption, we can better understand the full potential of insect predators on prey. If predation risk influences behaviors in prey insects, that are also crop pests – like the Colorado potato beetle, then we might be able to use this information to manipulate these insects in crop fields and develop new pest management strategies. 

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