Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 327–338 | Cite as

Volatile-Mediated within-Plant Signaling in Hybrid Aspen: Required for Systemic Responses

  • Tao Li
  • James D. Blande


Plant volatiles play crucial roles in signaling between plants and their associated community members, but their role in within-plant signaling remains largely unexplored, particularly under field conditions. Using a system comprising the hybrid aspen (Populus tremula x tremuloides) and the specialized herbivorous leaf beetle (Phratora laticollis) and, combining field, greenhouse and laboratory experiments, we examined whether local damage triggered systemic responses in undamaged branches that lack vascular connection to the damaged branches, and to what extent this was caused by airborne volatile signals versus internal signals. An experiment tracing dye through the vasculature of saplings revealed no downward movement of the dye from upper to lower branches, suggesting a lack of vascular connectivity among branches. However, we found under both field and laboratory conditions that herbivore feeding on upper branches elicited volatile emissions by undamaged lower branches. Greenhouse experiments manipulating air contact between damaged and undamaged branches showed that systemic induction of volatiles was almost eliminated when air contact was interrupted. Our findings clearly demonstrate that herbivore-induced volatiles overcome vascular constraints and mediate within-plant signaling. Further, we found that volatile signaling led to induction of different classes of volatiles under field and environment controlled conditions, with a weaker response observed in the field. This difference not only reflects the dose- and time-dependent nature of volatile signaling, but also points out that future studies should focus more on field observations to better understand the ecological role of volatile-mediated within-plant signaling.


Defense induction Phratora laticollis Plant volatiles Populus Priming Within-plant signaling 



We thank Elina Häikiö and staff at the University of Eastern Finland Kuopio Campus research garden for growing plants for the study, Timo Oksanen for expert technical support, and the Academy of Finland (decision numbers 256050, 251898 and 283122) for funding this research.

Supplementary material

10886_2017_826_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (528 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 528 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental and Biological SciencesUniversity of Eastern FinlandKuopioFinland
  2. 2.Terrestrial Ecology Section, Department of BiologyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen EDenmark

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