Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 41, Issue 9, pp 781–792 | Cite as

Maize Plants Recognize Herbivore-Associated Cues from Caterpillar Frass

  • Swayamjit Ray
  • Iffa Gaffor
  • Flor E. Acevedo
  • Anjel Helms
  • Wen-Po Chuang
  • John Tooker
  • Gary W. Felton
  • Dawn S. Luthe


Caterpillar behaviors such as feeding, crawling, and oviposition are known to induce defenses in maize and other plant species. We examined plant defense responses to another important caterpillar behavior, their defecation. Fall armyworms (FAW, Spodoptera frugiperda), a major threat to maize (Zea mays), are voracious eaters and deposit copious amounts of frass in the enclosed whorl tissue surrounding their feeding site, where it remains for long periods of time. FAW frass is composed of molecules derived from the host plant, the insect itself, and associated microbes, and hence provides abundant cues that may alter plant defense responses. We observed that proteins from FAW frass initially induced wound-responsive defense genes in maize; however, a pathogenesis-related (pr) defense gene was induced as the time after application increased. Elicitation of pathogen defenses by frass proteins was correlated with increased herbivore performance and reduced fungal pathogen performance over time. These responses differ from the typical plant response to oral secretions of the FAW. The results pave the way for identification of protein molecule(s) from the excretion of an herbivore that elicits pathogen defense responses while attenuating herbivore defenses in plants.


Frass Fall armyworm Maize 



We thank Dr. Rebecca Boston for sending us antibody for Rip2 protein in maize. We also thank the insight of Nate McCarthey in Dr. Jim Tumlinson’s lab for the phytohormone analyses. We thank Dr. Elizabeth Bosak for letting us use the wounding tool. The author also acknowledges Dr. Kelli Hoover’s lab for help in quantifying RNA samples with Nanodrop (Thermo Fisher Scientific). We appreciate the comments of Dr SeungHo Chung in the preparation of this manuscript. We thank Susan Wolf at USDA-ARS (MSU), for providing the FAW eggs.


This work was supported by grants from USDA NIFA (2010-65105-20639 and 2011-67013-30352) awarded to D.S.L and G.W.F.

Supplementary material

10886_2015_619_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.5 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 3564 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Swayamjit Ray
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Iffa Gaffor
    • 2
  • Flor E. Acevedo
    • 3
    • 5
  • Anjel Helms
    • 3
    • 5
  • Wen-Po Chuang
    • 4
  • John Tooker
    • 3
    • 5
  • Gary W. Felton
    • 3
    • 5
  • Dawn S. Luthe
    • 2
  1. 1.Intercollegiate Graduate Program in Plant Biology, Huck Institute of Life SciencesPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Plant SciencePennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  3. 3.Center for Chemical EcologyPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  4. 4.Department of AgronomyNational Taiwan UniversityTaipeiTaiwan
  5. 5.Department of EntomologyPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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