Do plants use airborne cues to recognize herbivores on their neighbours?
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Plants show defensive responses after exposure to volatiles from neighbouring plants infested by herbivores. When a plant’s neighbours host only species of herbivores that do not feed on the plant itself, the plant can conserve energy by maintaining a low defence level. An intriguing question is whether plants respond differently to volatiles from plants infested by herbivores that pose greater or lesser degrees of danger. We examined the secretion of extrafloral nectar (EFN) in lima bean plants exposed to volatiles from cabbage plants infested by common cutworm, two-spotted spider mites, or diamondback moth larvae. Although the first two herbivore species feed on lima bean plants, diamondback moth larvae do not. As a control, lima bean plants were exposed to volatiles from uninfested cabbage plants. Only when exposed to volatiles from cabbage plants infested by spider mites did lima bean plants significantly increase their EFN secretion compared with the control. Increased EFN secretion can function as an indirect defence by supplying the natural enemies of herbivores with an alternative food source. Of the three herbivore species, spider mites were the most likely to move from cabbage plants to lima bean plants and presumably posed the greatest threat. Although chemical analyses showed differences among treatments in volatiles produced by herbivore-infested cabbage plants, which compounds or blends triggered the increased secretion of EFN by lima bean plants remains unclear. Thus, our results show that plants may tune their defence levels according to herbivore risk level.
KeywordsExtrafloral nectar Indirect defence Induced response Plant communication Recognition Herbivore-induced plant volatiles
This research was financially supported by the Global Center of Excellence Program “Formation of a Strategic Base for Biodiversity and Evolutionary Research: from Genome to Ecosystem” of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Japan; a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (S) from MEXT, Japan (No. 19101009), and a Core-to-Core project from the Japan Science and Technology Agency.
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