Ecophysiological comparison of direct and indirect defenses in Nicotiana attenuata
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After herbivore attack, plants launch a suite of direct and indirect defense responses that must be coordinated if plants are to realize a fitness benefit from these responses. Here we characterize the volatile emissions in the native tobacco plant, Nicotiana attenuata Torr. ex Wats., that are elicited by tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta L.) attack and are known to function as attractants for parasitoids. To provide the first ecophysiological comparison of examples of both types of defense in the same species, we characterize the elicitation and signaling mechanisms, the resources required, and the potential costs and benefits of the volatile release and compare these traits with those of the well-described induced direct defense in this species, nicotine production. The release of (E)-β-ocimene, cis-α-bergamotene and linalool is dramatically induced within 24 h by application of methyl jasmonate (MeJA), caterpillar feeding, and the treatment of mechanical wounds with larval oral secretions (OS), but not by mechanical damage alone. Plants from different geographic locations produce volatile blends that differ in composition. The most consistently released component from all genotypes, cis-α-berga-motene, is positively related to the amount of MeJA and the level of wounding if OS are applied to the wounds. The volatile release is strongly light dependent, dropping to undetectable quantities during dark periods, even when temperatures are elevated to match those of the light period. Inhibitors of wound-induced jasmonate accumulation (salicylates and auxins), which are known to inhibit wound-induced nicotine production, do not inhibit the release of volatiles. By individually inducing different leaf positions with OS and, on other plants, excising them after induction, we demonstrate that the emission is largely a systemic, whole-plant response, which is maximally triggered when the second fully expanded leaf is induced. We conclude that while both are whole-plant, systemic responses that utilize recently acquired resources for their production and are activated by the jasmonate cascade, the elicitation of the volatile release exhibits greater tissue sensitivity and utilizes additional signaling components than does nicotine production. In contrast to the large investment of fitness-limiting resources required for induced nicotine production or the resources used in benzyl acetone release from flowers for pollinator attraction, the resource requirements for the volatile release are minor. Hence the argument that the volatile release incurs comparatively large physiological costs cannot be supported in this system.
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