Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 51–61 | Cite as

Foliar Terpene Chemotypes and Herbivory Determine Variation in Plant Volatile Emissions

  • Carlos Bustos-SeguraEmail author
  • William J. Foley


Plants that synthesize and store terpenes in specialized cells accumulate large concentrations of these compounds while avoiding autotoxicity. Stored terpenes may influence the quantity and profile of volatile compounds that are emitted into the environment and the subsequent role of those volatiles in mediating the activity of herbivores. The Australian medicinal tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia, occurs as several distinct terpene chemotypes. We studied the profile of its terpene emissions to understand how variations in stored foliar terpenes influenced emissions, both constitutive and when damaged either by herbivores or mechanically. We found that foliar chemistry influenced differences in the composition of terpene emissions, but those emissions were minimal in intact plants. When plants were damaged by herbivores or mechanically, the emissions were greatly increased and the composition corresponded to the constitutive terpenes and the volatility of each compound, suggesting the main origin of emissions is the stored terpenes and not de novo biosynthesized volatiles. However, herbivores modified the composition of the volatile emissions in only one chemotype, probably due to the oxidative metabolism of 1,8-cineole by the beetles. We also tested whether the foliar terpene blend acted as an attractant for the specialized leaf beetles Paropsisterna tigrina and Faex sp. and a parasitoid fly, Anagonia zentae. None of these species responded to extracts of young leaves in an olfactometer, so we found no evidence that these species use plant odor cues for host location in laboratory conditions.


Terpenes Intraspecific variation Melaleuca alternifolia Paropsisterna tigrina Faex sp. Anagonia zentae. herbivory VOC Chrysomelidae Tachinidae 



We are grateful to Dr. Mervyn Shepherd from Southern Cross University for providing advice on Tea Trees and access to the experimental plantation. Mr Mike Hill and the staff at the RSC-RSB workshop helped in the design and fabrication of the four-arm olfactometer. Dr. Chris Reid (The Australian Museum) identified Faex sp. Mr. James Lumbers (CSIRO) identified the tachinid fly species. Thanks to Dr. Ivan Hiltpold (Western Sydney University) for helpful suggestions on olfactometer techniques. We also thank to Mr. Craig Maddox (NSW Department of Primary Industries) for discussions and advice on rearing the leaf beetles. Thanks to Helen Kennedy for helping during the setting up of the headspace technique. CBS was supported by CONACYT and ANU scholarships. This study was funded by grants from the Australian Research Council Discovery Programme (DP140101755) to WJF.

Author Contributions

CBS and WJF conceived and designed the experiments. CBS performed the experiments and analysed the data. CBS wrote the first version of the manuscript with substantial revisions by WJF.

Supplementary material

10886_2017_919_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (109 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 109 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Ecology and Evolution, Research School of BiologyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Laboratory of Evolutionary Entomology, Institute of BiologyUniversity of NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland

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