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Shared signals –‘alarm calls’ from plants increase apparency to herbivores and their enemies in nature




The attraction of natural enemies of herbivores by volatile organic compounds as an induced indirect defence has been studied in several plant systems. The evidence for their defensive function originates mainly from laboratory studies with trained parasitoids and predators; the defensive function of these emissions for plants in natural settings has been rarely demonstrated. In native populations and laboratory Y-tube choice experiments with transgenic Nicotiana attenuata plants unable to release particular volatiles, we demonstrate that predatory bugs use terpenoids and green leaf volatiles (GLVs) to locate their prey on herbivore-attacked plants. By attracting predators with volatile signals, this native plant reduces its herbivore load – demonstrating the defensive function of herbivore-induced volatile emissions. However, plants producing GLVs are also damaged more by flea beetles. The implications of these conflicting ecological effects for the evolution of induced volatile emissions and for the development of sustainable agricultural practices are discussed.