Major ascaroside pheromone component asc-C5 influences reproductive plasticity among isolates of the invasive species pinewood nematode.
Pheromones are communication chemicals and regulatory signals used by animals and represent unique tools for organisms to mediate behaviors and make "decisions" to maximize their fitness. Phenotypic plasticity refers to the innate capacity of a species to tolerate a greater breadth of environmental conditions across which it adapts to improve its survival, reproduction, and fitness. The pinewood nematode, Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, an invasive nematode species, was accidentally introduced from North America into Japan, China, and Europe; however, few studies have investigated its pheromones and phenotypic plasticity as a natural model. Here, we demonstrated a novel phenomenon, in which nematodes under the condition of pheromone presence triggered increased reproduction in invasive strains (JP1, JP2, CN1, CN2, EU1, and EU2), while it simultaneously decreased reproduction in native strains (US1 and US2). The bidirectional effect on fecundity, mediated by presence/absence of pheromones, is henceforth termed pheromone-regulative reproductive plasticity (PRRP). We further found that synthetic ascaroside asc-C5 (ascr#9), the major pheromone component, plays a leading role in PRRP and identified 2 candidate receptor genes, Bxydaf-38 and Bxysrd-10, involved in perceiving asc-C5. These results suggest that plasticity of reproductive responses to pheromones in pinewood nematode may increase its fitness in novel environments following introduction. This opens up a new perspective for invasion biology and presents a novel strategy of invasion, suggesting that pheromones, in addition to their traditional roles in chemical signaling, can influence the reproductive phenotype among native and invasive isolates. In addition, this novel mechanism could broadly explain, through comparative studies of native and invasive populations of animals, a potential underlying factor behind of the success of other biological invasions.