Costs of induced volatile production in maize


  • Maria Elena Hoballah,

  • Tobias G. Köllner,

  • Jörg Degenhardt,

  • Ted C. J. Turlings

M. E. Hoballah and T. C. J. Turlings, Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Entomology, Inst. of Zoology, Univ. of Neuchâtel, Casc postale 2, CH-2007 Neuchâtel, Switzerland ( Present address for MEH: Inst. of Plant Sciences, Univ. of Bern, Altenbergrain 21, CH-3013 Bern, Switzerland. – T. G. Köllner and J. Degenhardt, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Winzerlaer Strasse 10, DE-007745 Jena, Germany.


Herbivore-induced plant volatiles have been shown to serve as indirect defence signals that attract natural enemies of herbivores. Parasitoids and predators exploit these plant-provided cues to locate their victims and several herbivores are repelled by the volatiles. Recently, benefits, in terms of plant fitness, from the action of the parasitoids were shown for a few systems. However, the cost of production of herbivore-induced volatiles for the plant remains unknown. Here, we estimate the fitness cost of the production of induced volatiles in maize, Zea mays. Plants were treated with regurgitant of Spodoptera littoralis or with the elicitor volicitin and we measured dry weight of plant parts at specific times after treatments. After a two-week treatment period, the dry-weight of leaves of induced plants was lower than that of un-induced plants, suggesting a metabolic cost for induced defence. However, maize plants seem to compensate for this loss during subsequent growth, since seed production at maturity was not different for unharmed plants and plants treated with caterpillar regurgitant. For volicitin treated plants a small but significant reduction in seed production was found. It is likely that the treatments also induced the production of other defence compounds, which will contribute to the cost. Yet, a comparison of six maize inbred lines with distinct differences in volatile emissions showed a strong correlation between the intensity of induced emissions and reduction in plant performance. An analysis of the terpenoids that accumulated in the leaves of the inbred lines revealed non-volatilised compounds are constitutively present in maize and only the volatilised compounds are induced. Interestingly, the lines that released the largest amounts of induced volatiles also contained more of the non-volatile terpenoids. Based on these results and results from a previous study on the benefits of attracting parasitoids, we conclude that costs of induced volatile production in plants are counterbalanced by the benefits as long as natural enemies of the herbivores are present in the environment.