This press release is available in German.
To solve the acute, global problem of securing food resources for a continuously growing population, we must work constantly to increase the sustainability and effectiveness of modern agricultural techniques. These efforts depend on new insights from plant ecology, particularly from work on native plants that grow in the primordial agricultural niche. Based on field studies on wild tobacco plants in the Great Basin Desert, Utah, USA, researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, demonstrated that the release of volatiles which attract enemies of herbivores not only controls insect pests, but also increases the reproduction of infested plants. Transferred to the goals of integrated pest management, this means that these natural plant defenses can be utilized to improve and increase agricultural yields in an environmentally friendly manner. These results were published on October 15, 2012, as part of the launch of the new open-access journal eLife.
Defense against herbivores is not automatically linked to yield increases
For three decades, ecologists have observed that plants emit specific volatiles after herbivory, causing a striking effect: they can reduce the number of insect attackers on a plant by up to 90 percent, because herbivores' enemies can recognize such volatiles as a "call to dinner". Typical examples are the attraction of parasitic wasps or predatory bugs after leaves have been attacked by moth larvae, or the underground "cry for help" emitted by maize roots to attract nematodes feeding on corn rootworm larvae. However, until now, one important question for farmers remained unanswered: Does the so-called indirect defense reaction of a plant positively influence the plant's fitness, its vegetative and especially reproductive growth, the gene
|Contact: Ian T. Baldwin|
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology