A Physiological and Behavioral Mechanism for Leaf Herbivore-Induced Systemic Root Resistance

Matthias Erb, Christelle A M Robert, Guillaume Marti, Jing Lu, Gwladys R Doyen, Neil Villard, Yves Barrière, B Wade French, Jean-Luc Wolfender, Ted C J Turlings, Jonathan Gershenzon
Plant Physiology 2015, 169 (4): 2884-94
Indirect plant-mediated interactions between herbivores are important drivers of community composition in terrestrial ecosystems. Among the most striking examples are the strong indirect interactions between spatially separated leaf- and root-feeding insects sharing a host plant. Although leaf feeders generally reduce the performance of root herbivores, little is known about the underlying systemic changes in root physiology and the associated behavioral responses of the root feeders. We investigated the consequences of maize (Zea mays) leaf infestation by Spodoptera littoralis caterpillars for the root-feeding larvae of the beetle Diabrotica virgifera virgifera, a major pest of maize. D. virgifera strongly avoided leaf-infested plants by recognizing systemic changes in soluble root components. The avoidance response occurred within 12 h and was induced by real and mimicked herbivory, but not wounding alone. Roots of leaf-infested plants showed altered patterns in soluble free and soluble conjugated phenolic acids. Biochemical inhibition and genetic manipulation of phenolic acid biosynthesis led to a complete disappearance of the avoidance response of D. virgifera. Furthermore, bioactivity-guided fractionation revealed a direct link between the avoidance response of D. virgifera and changes in soluble conjugated phenolic acids in the roots of leaf-attacked plants. Our study provides a physiological mechanism for a behavioral pattern that explains the negative effect of leaf attack on a root-feeding insect. Furthermore, it opens up the possibility to control D. virgifera in the field by genetically mimicking leaf herbivore-induced changes in root phenylpropanoid patterns.

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