Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 35, Issue 11, pp 1335-1348

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Emission of Volatile Organic Compounds After Herbivory from Trifolium pratense (L.) Under Laboratory and Field Conditions

  • Rose N. KigathiAffiliated withInstitute of Ecology, Friedrich-Schiller-University of JenaMax Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology, Department of Biochemistry Email author 
  • , Sybille B. UnsickerAffiliated withMax Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology, Department of Biochemistry
  • , Michael ReicheltAffiliated withMax Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology, Department of Biochemistry
  • , Jürgen KesselmeierAffiliated withMax Planck Institute for Chemistry, Biogeochemistry Department
  • , Jonathan GershenzonAffiliated withMax Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology, Department of Biochemistry
  • , Wolfgang W. WeisserAffiliated withInstitute of Ecology, Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena


Plants emit a wide range of volatile organic compounds in response to damage by herbivores, and many of the compounds have been shown to attract the natural enemies of insect herbivores or serve for inter- and intra-plant communication. Most studies have focused on volatile emission in the laboratory while little is known about emission patterns in the field. We studied the emission of volatiles by Trifolium pratense (red clover) under both laboratory and field conditions. The emission of 24 compounds was quantified in the laboratory, of which eight showed increased emission rates after herbivory by Spodoptera littoralis caterpillars, including (E)-β-ocimene, the most abundant compound, (Z)-β-ocimene, linalool, (E)-β-caryophyllene, (E,E)-α-farnesene, 4,8-dimethyl-1,3,7-nonatriene (DMNT), 1-octen-3-ol, and methyl salicylate (MeSA). While most of these compounds have been reported as herbivore-induced volatiles from a wide range of plant taxa, 1-octen-3-ol seems to be a characteristic volatile of legumes. In the field, T. pratense plants with varying herbivore damage growing in established grassland communities emitted only 13 detectable compounds, and the correlation between herbivore damage and volatile release was more variable than in the laboratory. For example, the emission of (E)-β-ocimene, (Z)-β-ocimene, and DMNT actually declined with damage, while decanal exhibited increased emission with increasing herbivory. Elevated light and temperature increased the emission of many compounds, but the differences in light and temperature conditions between the laboratory and the field could not account for the differences in emission profiles. Our results indicate that the release of volatiles from T. pratense plants in the field is likely to be influenced by additional biotic and abiotic factors not measured in this study. The elucidation of these factors may be important in understanding the physiological and ecological functions of volatiles in plants.


Field study Herbivore induced plant volatiles (HIPV) Plant defense Red clover Volatile organic compounds (VOC)