Plants respond to insect herbivory with the production of volatiles that attract carnivorous enemies of the herbivores, a phenomenon called indirect defence or ‘plants crying for help’. Plants are under selection to maximize Darwinian fitness, and this can be done by making the right ‘decisions’ (i.e. by responding to environmental stress in ways that maximize seed production). Plant decisions related to the response to herbivory in terms of the emission of herbivore-induced volatiles include ‘to respond or not to respond’, ‘how fast to respond’, ‘how to respond’ and ‘when to stop responding’. In this review, the state-of-the-art of the research field is presented in the context of these decisions that plants face. New questions and directions for future research are identified. To understand the consequences of plant responses in a community context, it is important to expand research from individual interactions to multispecies interactions in a community context. To achieve this, detailed information on underlying mechanisms is essential and first steps on this road have been made. This selective review addresses the ecology of herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) by integrating information on mechanisms and ecological functions. New questions are identified as well as challenges for extending current information to community ecology.