, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 55–73

Evolution of plant volatile production in insect-plant relationships

  • Paul Harrewijn
  • Albert K. Minks
  • Chris Mollema
Review paper

DOI: 10.1007/BF01259434

Cite this article as:
Harrewijn, P., Minks, A.K. & Mollema, C. Chemoecology (1994) 5: 55. doi:10.1007/BF01259434


The production of volatile secondary plant substances during the evolution of terrestrial plants is reviewed in regard to the defensive systems of plants to microorganisms and herbivores. Plant volatiles can be produced by both anabolic and catabolic processes. Although attraction of pollinators is a well-studied phenomenon, functions of volatiles range from excretion of waste products to the production of compounds attracting natural enemies of herbivores. During the evolution of the angiosperms a diversity of volatiles were selected to defend generative parts against microorganisms. Many of these allomones were related to or even identical with sex pheromones of insects. As a result flowers of angiosperms became utilized as a mating site. Consequently insects visiting flowers became involved in pollination, facilitating the steps from anemophily to entomophily. The efficiency of entomophily was increased because of nutritional rewards.

An evolutionary scenario for the impact of plant volatiles on insects is presented and the role of volatile allomones in the establishment of plant-insect relationships is emphasized by (1) their strong antimicrobial properties, (2) strategies to protect symbiotic microorganisms, (3) their function as repellents and deterrents, (4) the use of volatile allomones as kairomones. These facts speak for an adaptation of insects to plant physiology and a limited importance of phytophagous insects in selection pressure upon plants. Herbivorous insects have realized specific adaptations to be able to discriminate between complex odour blends, but the utilization of chemical groups among insect taxa is different.

The main theories on plant chemical defence do not discuss the impact of volatiles on host plant selection and may be apt to revision when pheromones, allomones, kairomones and synomones are not taken into account.

Key words

allomones pheromones synomones herbivores microorganisms plant defence coevolution odour perception pollination synergism insect behaviour 

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Harrewijn
    • 1
  • Albert K. Minks
    • 1
  • Chris Mollema
    • 2
  1. 1.IPO-DLOWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.CPRO-DLOWageningenThe Netherlands

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