Caterpillar-induced nocturnal plant volatiles repel conspecific females


Plants respond to insect herbivory by synthesizing and releasing complex blends of volatile compounds, which provide important host-location cues for insects that are natural enemies of herbivores1,2,3. The effects of these volatile blends on herbivore behaviour have been investigated to only a limited extent4,5, in part because of the assumption that herbivore-induced volatile emissions occur mainly during the light phase of the photoperiod6,7. Because many moths—whose larvae are some of the most important insect herbivores—are nocturnal, herbivore-induced plant volatiles have not hitherto been considered to be temporally available as host-location cues for ovipositing females. Here we present chemical and behavioural assays showing that tobacco plants (Nicotiana tabacum) release herbivore-induced volatiles during both night and day. Moreover, several volatile compounds are released exclusively at night and are highly repellent to female moths (Heliothis virescens). The demonstration that tobacco plants release temporally different volatile blends and that lepidopteran herbivores use induced plant signals released during the dark phase to choose sites for oviposition adds a new dimension to our understanding of the role of chemical cues in mediating tritrophic interactions.

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Figure 1: Gas chromatographic analysis of induced plant volatiles.
Figure 2: Response of female moths to plant volatiles.


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We thank G. W. G. De Moraes for discussions; H. T. Alborn, J. G. Hildebrand, P. J. Landolt, W. J. Lewis, K. G. Ross and J. R. Ruberson for comments on the manuscript; and B. Dueben and M. Sammons for technical assistance.

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Correspondence to James H. Tumlinson.

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De Moraes, C., Mescher, M. & Tumlinson, J. Caterpillar-induced nocturnal plant volatiles repel conspecific females. Nature 410, 577–580 (2001).

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