Does application of methyl jasmonate to birch mimic herbivory and attract insectivorous birds in nature?
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Earlier studies have suggested that insectivorous birds, similar to invertebrate predators and parasitoids, may be guided by herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) to damaged, herbivore-rich trees. Recent studies have also shown that birds use olfaction more than previously thought, underlying the potential for HIPVs to be sensed by insectivorous birds and utilised during foraging for prey. The HIPV production in plants is mediated, at least partly, by the jasmonic acid signalling pathway, and similar HIPVs to those induced by herbivores can often be induced by exposing plants to methyl jasmonate (MeJa). We studied the effects of MeJa on volatile emission and bird attraction using mature mountain birches (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii) under natural conditions in northern Finland. Experimental trees were assigned to four treatment groups: herbivore-damaged [autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata)], higher dose of MeJa (30 mM), lower dose of MeJa (15 mM) and control. All trees had three branches covered with mesh bags, but there were larvae inside the bags only of the herbivore-damage treatment. Bird predation rate was monitored with artificial plasticine larvae which were checked daily for peck marks. Birds most often pecked the larvae in the herbivore-damaged trees, but the attractiveness of MeJa-treated trees did not differ from the control. High within-treatment variation in systemic HIPV emissions probably masked MeJa treatment effects. The bird predation rate was high in birches that emitted large amounts of α-pinene. Thus, α-pinene may be one cue used by birds to find herbivore-rich birches.
Keywordsα-Pinene Avian predation Herbivory Methyl jasmonate Volatile organic compounds
Thanks for the help in the field and laboratory work to Tea Ammunét, Tommi Andersson, Tanja Hannola, Liisa Huttunen, Minna Korjus, Kristiina Mutkala, Elisa Männistö, Robert Todd and Suvi Vanhakylä. We would like to thank anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the draft manuscript. The study was funded by Emil Aaltonen foundation (Grant to EM). JDB acknowledges funding from Academy of Finland project no. 251898.
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