Plant volatiles in polluted atmospheres: stress responses and signal degradation



Plants emit a plethora of volatile organic compounds, which provide detailed information on the physiological condition of emitters. Volatiles induced by herbivore feeding are among the best studied plant responses to stress and may constitute an informative message to the surrounding community and further function in plant defence processes. However, under natural conditions, plants are potentially exposed to multiple concurrent stresses with complex effects on the volatile emissions. Atmospheric pollutants are an important facet of the abiotic environment and can impinge on a plant's volatile-mediated defences in multiple ways at multiple temporal scales. They can exert changes in volatile emissions through oxidative stress, as is the case with ozone pollution. The pollutants, in particular, ozone, nitrogen oxides and hydroxyl radicals, also react with volatiles in the atmosphere. These reactions result in volatile breakdown products, which may themselves be perceived by community members as informative signals. In this review, we demonstrate the complex interplay among stresses, emitted signals, and modification in signal strength and composition by the atmosphere, collectively determining the responses of the biotic community to elicited signals.