Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 1172–1181
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by damaged plants convey information to undamaged neighbouring plants, and previous research has shown that these signals are effective over short distances in nature. Many herbivore-induced VOCs react with ozone, which is the most important tropospheric air pollutant in rural areas. We used extrafloral nectar (EFN) secretion as a phenotypic indicator of between-plant communication in Phaseolus lunatus L. (Lima bean) and show that an ozone-rich (80 ppb) atmosphere reduces the distance over which signalling occurs. We found that ozone degrades several herbivore-induced VOCs, a likely mechanism reducing communication distances. Direct exposure to 80-ppb ozone did not affect the VOC emissions from P. lunatus. In addition, we demonstrated that high ozone concentrations, 120 and 160 ppb, induced EFN secretion in exposed plants, whereas more moderate concentrations, 80 and 100 ppb, did not. This suggests that ozone can play a complex role in the indirect defence of P. lunatus.
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