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Plant volatile emission depends on the species composition of the neighboring plant community


Plants grow in multi-species communities rather than monocultures. Yet most studies on the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from plants in response to insect herbivore feeding focus on one plant species. Whether the presence and identity of neighboring plants or plant community attributes, such as plant species richness and plant species composition, affect the herbivore-induced VOC emission of a focal plant is poorly understood. We established experimental plant communities in pots in the greenhouse where the focal plant species, red clover (Trifolium pratense), was grown in monoculture, in a two species mixture together with Geranium pratense or Dactylis glomerata, or in a mixture of all three species. We measured VOC emission of the focal plant and the entire plant community, with and without herbivory of Spodoptera littoralis caterpillars caged on one red clover individual within the communities. Herbivory increased VOC emission from red clover, and increasing plant species richness changed emissions of red clover and also from the entire plant community. Neighbor identity strongly affected red clover emission, with highest emission rates for plants growing together with D. glomerata. The results from this study indicate that the blend of VOCs perceived by host searching insects can be affected by plant-plant interactions.


Kigathi, R. N., Weisser, W. W., Reichelt, M., Gershenzon, J., Unsicker, S. B. (2019). Plant volatile emission depends on the species composition of the neighboring plant community. BMC plant biology, 19(1), 58. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12870-018-1541-9

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