Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 95–105 | Cite as

Mistletoe Versus Host Pine: Does Increased Parasite Load Alter the Host Chemical Profile?

  • Alba Lázaro-GonzálezEmail author
  • José A. Hódar
  • Regino Zamora


Stress caused by parasitic plants, e.g. mistletoes, alters certain host-plant traits as a response. While several physical implications of the parasite-host relation have been well studied, shifts in the host chemical profile remain poorly understood. Here we compare the chemical profiles of mistletoe (Viscum album subsp. austriacum) leaves and host pine (Pinus nigra subsp. salzmannii) needles and we investigate chemical changes in host needles of trees with different parasite loads (control, low, medium, and high). Our results reveal that despite the intimate contact between mistletoe and host pine, their chemical profiles differed significantly, revealing extremely low concentrations of defense compounds (including a complete lack of terpenes) and high levels of N concentrations in mistletoe leaves. On the other hand, parasitized pines showed unique chemical responses depending on parasite loads. Overall, the content in monoterpenes increased with parasitism. Higher parasitized pines produced higher amounts of defense compounds (phenols and condensed tannins) than less parasitized trees, but amounts in samples of the same year did not significantly differ between parasitized and unparasitized pines. Highly parasitized pines accumulated less N than pines with other parasite loads. The strongest response was found in sesqui- and diterpenes, which were at lower levels in pines under medium and high parasitism. Chemical responses of pines to mistletoe parasitism resembled reactions to other kinds of stress. Low levels induced reactions resembling those against drought stress, while medium and high parasitism elicited responses comparable to those against burning and defoliation.


Hemiparasite Defense compounds Terpenes Chemical responses Stressors Viscum album Plant-plant interactions Parasitic plants 



The Andalusian Environmental Council, Junta de Andalucía and the Directors of the Sierra de Baza Natural Park provided permission for field work. R. Ruiz-Puche helped us with field sampling and Susana Hitos in laboratory processing of samples. José Miguel Ramos processed and identified all terpenoid compounds at facilities of CIC. D. Nesbitt checked the English version of this manuscript. This study was supported by project CLAVINOVA CGL2011-29910 from Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and FPI grant BES-2012-057125 to ALG from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.

Supplementary material

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Terrestrial Ecology Research Group, Department of Ecology, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of GranadaGranadaSpain

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