Phytochemistry Reviews

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 961–983 | Cite as

Elm defence against herbivores and pathogens: morphological, chemical and molecular regulation aspects

  • Kerstin Büchel
  • Trevor Fenning
  • Jonathan Gershenzon
  • Monika Hilker
  • Torsten Meiners


Elms (Ulmus spp.) have long been appreciated for their environmental tolerance, landscape and ornamental value, and the quality of their wood. Although elm trees are extremely hardy against abiotic stresses such as wind and pollution, they are susceptible to attacks of biotic stressors. Over 100 phytopathogens and invertebrate pests are associated with elms: fungi, bacteria and insects like beetles and moths, and to a lesser extent aphids, mites, viruses and nematodes. While the biology of the pathogen and insect vector of the Dutch elm disease has been intensively studied, less attention has been paid so far to the defence mechanisms of elms to other biotic stressors. This review highlights knowledge of direct and indirect elm defences against biotic stressors focusing on morphological, chemical and gene regulation aspects. First, we report how morphological defence mechanisms via barrier formation and vessel occlusion prevent colonisation and spread of wood- and bark-inhabiting fungi and bacteria. Second, we outline how secondary metabolites such as terpenoids (volatile terpenoids, mansonones and triterpenoids) and phenolics (lignans, coumarins, flavonoids) in leaves and bark are involved in constitutive and induced chemical defence mechanisms of elms. Third, we address knowledge on how the molecular regulation of elm defence is orchestrated through the interaction of a huge variety of stress- and defence-related genes. We conclude by pointing to the gaps of knowledge on the chemical and molecular mechanisms of elm defence against pest insects and diseases. An in-depth understanding of defence mechanisms of elms will support the development of sustainable integrated management of pests and diseases attacking elms.


Dutch elm disease Elm leaf beetle Chemical response Morphological defence Gene regulation Induced resistance Terpenoids Ulmus minor 



Elm leaf beetle


Elm yellows


Dutch elm disease


Induced resistance


Jasmonic acid


Methyl jasmonate




Reactive oxygen species


Salicylic acid



We are grateful for the support of the German Research Foundation (= Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG (Me 1810/4-1.2 and Fe 778/1-1.2, CRC 973) and the Max Planck Society. We thank five anonymous reviewers for providing valuable comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kerstin Büchel
    • 1
    • 2
  • Trevor Fenning
    • 2
    • 3
  • Jonathan Gershenzon
    • 2
  • Monika Hilker
    • 1
  • Torsten Meiners
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Applied Zoology/Animal Ecology, Dahlem Centre of Plant SciencesFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Department of BiochemistryMax Planck Institute for Chemical EcologyJenaGermany
  3. 3.Forest Research, Northern Research StationRoslin, MidlothianUK
  4. 4.Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP)BerlinGermany

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