Indirect defence via tritrophic interactions


  • Martin Heil

    1. Dpto de Ingeniería Genética, CINVESTAV – Irapuato, Km 9.6 Libramiento Norte, Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico, CP 36821; Department of General Botany – Plant Ecology, University Duisburg-Essen, FB BioGeo, Universitätsstraße 5, D-45117 Essen, Germany
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I. Introduction2
II. Facultative indirect defences3
III.Production of indirect defences9
IV.Interactions among different strategies12


Many plants interact with carnivores as an indirect defence against herbivores. The release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and the secretion of extrafloral nectar (EFN) are induced by insect feeding, a response that is mediated by the plant hormone, jasmonic acid. Although VOCs mainly attract predatory mites and parasitic wasps, while EFN mainly attracts ants, many more animal–plant interactions are influenced by these two traits. Other traits involved in defensive tritrophic interactions are cellular food bodies and domatia, which serve the nutrition and housing of predators. They are not known to respond to herbivory, while food body production can be induced by the presence of the mutualists. Interactions among the different defensive traits, and between them and other biotic and abiotic factors exist on the genetic, physiological, and ecological levels, but so far remain understudied. Indirect defences are increasingly being discussed as an environmentally-friendly crop protection strategy, but much more knowledge on their fitness effects under certain environmental conditions is required before we can understand their ecological and evolutionary relevance, and before tritrophic interactions can serve as a reliable tool in agronomy.