New evidence for a multi-functional role of herbivore-induced plant volatiles in defense against herbivores

Cesar R. Rodriguez-Saona, Christopher J. Frost

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


A diverse, often species-specific, array of herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) are commonly emitted from plants after herbivore attack. Although research in the last 3 decades indicates a multi-functional role of these HIPVs, the evolutionary rationale underpinning HIPV emissions remains an open question. Many studies have documented that HIPVs can attract natural enemies, and some studies indicate that neighboring plants may eavesdrop their undamaged neighbors and induce or prime their own defenses prior to herbivore attack. Both of these ecological roles for HIPVs are risky strategies for the emitting plant. In a recent paper, we reported that most branches within a blueberry bush share limited vascular connectivity, which restricts the systemic movement of internal signals. Blueberry branches circumvent this limitation by responding to HIPVs emitted from neighboring branches of the same plant: exposure to HIPVs increases levels of defensive signaling hormones, changes their defensive status, and makes undamaged branches more resistant to herbivores. Similar findings have been reported recently for sagebrush, poplar and lima beans, where intra-plant communication played a role in activating or priming defenses against herbivores. Thus, there is increasing evidence that intra-plant communication occurs in a wide range of taxonomically unrelated plant species. While the degree to which this phenomenon increases a plant's fitness remains to be determined in most cases, we here argue that withinplant signaling provides more adaptive benefit for HIPV emissions than does between-plant signaling or attraction of predators. That is, the emission of HIPVs might have evolved primarily to protect undamaged parts of the plant against potential enemies, and neighboring plants and predators of herbivores later co-opted such HIPV signals for their own benefit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)58-60
Number of pages3
JournalPlant Signaling and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Eavesdropping
  • Intra-plant signaling
  • Plant defense
  • Plant-plant communication
  • Systemic wound signals
  • Tri-trophic interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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