Plant production of volatile semiochemicals in response to insect-derived elicitors

J. H. Tumlinson, P. W. Paré, W. J. Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


An increase in the release of volatile compounds by plants in response to insect feeding is triggered by interaction of elicitors in the oral secretions of insect herbivores with damaged plant tissues. This herbivore damage triggers denovo biosynthesis of volatile plant metabolites derived from several different biochemical pathways. Natural enemies of herbivores use these volatile semiochemicals to locate their hosts. Although some volatile compounds are released from storage in plants immediately whenever damage to cells or glands occurs, the induced compounds are only synthesized and released during the light period. This often results in a delay between feeding damage and release of volatiles. Plants release the induced compounds from undamaged as well as damaged leaves. Thus, damage to only a few leaves results in a systemic response and release of volatiles by the entire plant. We propose that plants respond differently to individual herbivore species at least in part due to the composition of insect elicitors that come in contact with the plant. Specialist parasitoids can differentiate the volatile blends released due to damage by hosts from those resulting from non-host damage as well as from mechanical damage, thereby facilitating host location for the parasitoid. Elicitors in the oral secretions of beet armyworm caterpillars have been identified and synthesized.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-109
Number of pages15
JournalNovartis Foundation Symposium
StatePublished - 1999


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