Diversity of the Volatile Organic Compounds Emitted by 55 Species of Tropical Trees: a Survey in French Guiana
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- Courtois, E.A., Paine, C.E.T., Blandinieres, PA. et al. J Chem Ecol (2009) 35: 1349. doi:10.1007/s10886-009-9718-1
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Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are produced by a broad range of organisms, from bacteria to mammals, and they represent a vast chemical diversity. In plants, one of the preeminent roles of VOCs is their repellent or cytotoxic activity, which helps the plant deter its predators. Most studies on VOCs emitted by vegetative parts have been conducted in model plant species, and little is known about patterns of VOC emissions in diverse plant communities. We conducted a survey of the VOCs released immediately after mechanical damage of the bark and the leaves of 195 individual trees belonging to 55 tropical tree species in a lowland rainforest of French Guiana. We discovered a remarkably high chemical diversity, with 264 distinct VOCs and a mean of 37 compounds per species. Two monoterpenes (α-pinene and limonene) and two sesquiterpenes (β-caryophyllene and α-copaene), which are known to have cytotoxic and deterrent effects, were the most frequent compounds in the sampled species. As has been established for floral scents, the blend of VOCs is largely species-specific and could be used to discriminate among 43 of the 55 sampled species. The species with the most diverse blends were found in the Sapindales, Laurales, and Magnoliales, indicating that VOC diversity is not uniformly distributed among tropical species. Interspecific variation in chemical diversity was caused mostly by variation in sesquiterpenes. This study emphasizes three aspects of VOC emission by tropical tree species: the species-specificity of the mixtures, the importance of sesquiterpenes, and the wide-ranging complexity of the mixtures.