A Role for Volatiles in Intra- and Inter-Plant Interactions in Birch
One of the first observations that plants might utilize cues released by damaged neighbors under natural conditions was made in birch forests in 1985. However, the mechanisms underlying the observations were not determined, and birch (Betula spp.) has been neglected as a study system for inter-plant interaction ever since. Volatiles released by vegetative plant parts in response to herbivore damage play important roles as signals in plant-to-plant interactions in a range of woody and herbaceous plant species, and also have been shown to mediate signaling between branches of the same plant that have limited vascular connection. We established greenhouse experiments to assess: 1) whether exposure to plant volatiles from herbivore-damaged birches primes defense responses in undamaged neighbors; and 2) whether defenses also are primed in undamaged parts of the same plants with limited vascular connection. We observed a priming of defense responses, which were manifested in an augmented emission of terpenes and aromatic compounds in undamaged conspecific neighbors, and also an augmented emission of green leaf volatiles in systemic branches. Our work provides strong evidence of inter-plant signaling by volatiles, and an intra-plant systemic response in birch. However, the responses are specific, with emissions of different groups of plant volatiles typifying the primed response. This work complements and extends the previous work conducted with a natural population of birches.
KeywordsBetula pendula Herbivore Intra-plant signaling Inter-plant signaling Priming Volatile organic compounds
We thank Marjo Anttila for assistance in establishing the experiment as well as two anonymous referees for valuable comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. Financial support was provided by the Academy of Finland (project nos. 256050 251898 and 141053). We also acknowledge the European Science Foundation EUROCORES Programme EuroVOL, which was supported by funds from the Academy of Finland.
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