Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 537–545 | Cite as

Plants Suppress Their Emission of Volatiles When Growing with Conspecifics

  • Rose N. Kigathi
  • Wolfgang W. Weisser
  • Daniel Veit
  • Jonathan Gershenzon
  • Sybille B. Unsicker


Plant volatiles mediate interactions with herbivores, herbivore enemies, and abiotic stresses, but these interactions mostly have been studied with individual isolated plants. It is not yet known how intra- and interspecific plant competition influence volatile emission. In a greenhouse experiment, we investigated the volatile emission by red clover (Trifolium pratense) growing alone, with a conspecific, or with an individual of the naturally co-occurring orchard grass, Dactylis glomerata. The individual and combined effects of above- and below ground plant contact were investigated. When T. pratense grew together with a conspecific, both total and herbivore-induced emission of volatiles was significantly reduced as compared to T. pratense growing with D. glomerata or growing alone. This reduction in emission occurred despite the fact that there was a significant reduction in T. pratense biomass due to competition with D. glomerata. The suppression of T. pratense volatile emission growing next to a conspecific was a general pattern observed for all major herbivore-induced volatiles and independent of whether plants were in contact above ground, below ground, or both above- and below ground. The reduction in volatile emission from plants growing with conspecifics may serve to reduce attack by specialist herbivores and minimize exploitation of herbivore attack information by neighbors.


Dactylis glomerata (Orchard grass) Herbivore induced volatiles Plant competition Spodoptera littoralis (Egyptian cotton leafworm) Trifolium pratense (Red clover) 



This research was funded by the International Max Planck Research School in Jena and the Max Planck Society. Wolfgang Weisser was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG (FOR 456). We thank Beate Rothe, Isabel Georgy, Simone Spreer, Birgit Arnold, Andreas Weber, and the greenhouse team for help with the experiment and plant rearing, Michael Reichelt and Tobias Köllner for assistance with chemical analysis, Ian Baldwin for comments on an earlier draft, and Jens Schumacher for advice on the statistical analyses.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rose N. Kigathi
    • 1
    • 2
  • Wolfgang W. Weisser
    • 1
    • 4
  • Daniel Veit
    • 3
  • Jonathan Gershenzon
    • 2
  • Sybille B. Unsicker
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of EcologyFriedrich-Schiller-University JenaJenaGermany
  2. 2.Department of BiochemistryMax Planck Institute for Chemical EcologyJenaGermany
  3. 3.Department of Scientific Instrumentation and Utilities ManagementMax Planck Institute for Chemical EcologyJenaGermany
  4. 4.Department of Terrestrial EcologyTechnische Universität MünchenFreisingGermany

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