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Growth form rather than phylogenetic relationship predicts broad volatile emission patterns in the Brassicaceae

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Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from plants are known to mediate indirect defense against herbivores and trigger intra- and interplant signaling. While systemic defense response can be mediated both via volatile and vascular signals, it is not clear whether common ancestry and/or plant growth forms influence the choice of either mode in planta. We hypothesize that larger woody plants with a complex anatomy should rely more on volatile-mediated signaling, apparently to circumvent vascular restrictions that slow down the communication over a large distance. On the other hand, in smaller herbaceous plants faster systemic response can be achieved via vascular signaling. To investigate whether plant VOCs emission is related to plant phylogeny or growth form, we studied the composition of herbivory-induced plant volatiles in 13 Brassicaceae species representing all four evolutionary lineages, because this family is characterized by both a well-resolved phylogeny and highly diverse growth forms. Our results revealed that woody species consistently emitted a more complex blend of volatiles than herbaceous species. However, phylogenetic relatedness of the species did not explain the observed volatile emission patterns. This emphasizes the influence of growth form, rather than phylogenetic relationships on the variation in plant volatile emissions. Our findings suggest that woody, perennial plant species emit diverse VOCs, likely because these compounds comprise a more efficient mode of defense response in these large, anatomically complex plants.

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We thank Michael Reichelt and Tobias Köllner for their assistance with chemical analysis, the Botanical Garden Osnabrück and Barbara Neuffer for providing plant material, Andreas Mühlhausen for advice on statistical analyses, Martin Heil for stimulating discussion and comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Klaus Mummenhoff.

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Handling editor: Marcus Koch.

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Online Resource 1. Quantity of detected volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from 13 species representing herbaceous and woody growth forms and Brassicaceae main lineages Aethionemeae, lineage I – III.

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Schrader, J., Unsicker, S.B., Bhattacharya, S. et al. Growth form rather than phylogenetic relationship predicts broad volatile emission patterns in the Brassicaceae. Plant Syst Evol 303, 653–662 (2017).

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