Can Batesian mimicry help plants to deter herbivores?



Several authors have suggested that edible plants could avoid herbivory by mimicking olfactory cues of toxic plants. However, very few studies have been carried out to test this hypothesis. The aims of the present study were to identify the volatiles of three clover species and to test whether a species lacking chemical defences, such as red clover, could avoid being grazed by rabbits by mimicking the volatiles of the cyanogenic white clover. Two main volatiles were identified in all three clover species, and a further two volatiles were present in white clover only. Rabbits presented with a choice between white clover, red clover and red clover sprayed with white clover extract ate significantly more red clover than white or white-flavoured red clover. The results suggest that the volatiles of toxic plants could be used and exploited as a source of natural, safe and effective repellents to control the impact of pest herbivores on plants. Copyright © 2007 Society of Chemical Industry