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Underground signals carried through common mycelial networks warn neighbouring plants of aphid attack


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The roots of most land plants are colonised by mycorrhizal fungi that provide mineral nutrients in exchange for carbon. Here, we show that mycorrhizal mycelia can also act as a conduit for signalling between plants, acting as an early warning system for herbivore attack. Insect herbivory causes systemic changes in the production of plant volatiles, particularly methyl salicylate, making bean plants, Vicia faba, repellent to aphids but attractive to aphid enemies such as parasitoids. We demonstrate that these effects can also occur in aphid-free plants but only when they are connected to aphid-infested plants via a common mycorrhizal mycelial network. This underground messaging system allows neighbouring plants to invoke herbivore defences before attack. Our findings demonstrate that common mycorrhizal mycelial networks can determine the outcome of multitrophic interactions by communicating information on herbivore attack between plants, thereby influencing the behaviour of both herbivores and their natural enemies.

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