Floral volatiles interfere with plant attraction of parasitoids: ontogeny-dependent infochemical dynamics in Brassica rapa

Gaylord A Desurmont, Diane Laplanche, Florian P Schiestl, Ted C J Turlings
BMC Ecology 2015, 15: 17

BACKGROUND: The role of plant ontogeny on investment in direct defense against herbivores is well accepted, but the transition from the vegetative to the reproductive stage can also affect indirect resistance traits (i.e. attraction of the natural enemies of plant attackers). Here, we conducted behavioral bioassays in olfactometers to determine whether the developmental stage (vegetative, pre-flowering, and flowering) of Brassica rapa plants affects attraction of Cotesia glomerata, a parasitoid of the herbivore Pieris brassicae, and examined the blends of volatile compounds emitted by plants at each developmental stage.

RESULTS: Pieris-infested plants were always more attractive to parasitoids than control plants and plants infested by a non-host herbivore, independently of plant developmental stage. On the other hand, the relative attractiveness of Pieris-infested plants was ontogeny dependent: Pieris-infested plants were more attractive at the pre-flowering stage than at the vegetative stage, and more attractive at the vegetative stage than at the flowering stage. Chemical analyses revealed that the induction of leaf volatiles after herbivory is strongly reduced in flowering plants. The addition of synthetic floral volatiles to infested vegetative plants decreased their attractiveness to parasitoids, suggesting a trade-off between signaling to pollinators and parasitoids.

CONCLUSION: Our results show that putative indirect resistance traits are affected by plant development, and are reduced during B. rapa reproductive stage. The effects of ontogenetic shifts in resource allocation on the behavior of members of the third trophic level may have important implications for the evolution of plant defense strategies against herbivores.

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