The effects of plant competition for light on the emission of plant volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were studied by investigating how different light qualities that occur in dense vegetation affect the emission of constitutive and methyl-jasmonate-induced VOCs.
Arabidopsis thaliana Columbia (Col-0) plants and Pieris brassicae caterpillars were used as a biological system to study the effects of light quality manipulations on VOC emissions and attraction of herbivores. VOCs were analysed using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry and the effects of light quality, notably the red : far red light ratio (R : FR), on expression of genes associated with VOC production were studied using reverse transcriptase–quantitative PCR.
The emissions of both constitutive and methyl-jasmonate-induced green leaf volatiles and terpenoids were partially suppressed under low R : FR and severe shading conditions. Accordingly, the VOC-based preference of neonates of the specialist lepidopteran herbivore P. brassicae was significantly affected by the R : FR ratio.
We conclude that VOC-mediated interactions among plants and between plants and organisms at higher trophic levels probably depend on light alterations caused by nearby vegetation. Studies on plant–plant and plant–insect interactions through VOCs should take into account the light quality within dense stands when extrapolating to natural and agricultural field conditions.