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Herbivore defense in ferns
Date:11/21/2012

insects at bay: Chemical composition analysis detected indanones, cyanogenic glycosides and tannins, amongst other substances. But can those "living fossils" also use indirect defenses against their enemies, like other plants do?

Defense mechanisms in bracken fern include indirect defenses. However, herbivory does not induce them

Beans, corn, cotton, poplar trees, tobacco plants and potatoes: These and other flowering plants are known to produce the plant hormone jasmonic acid in their leaves after herbivore attack. Jasmonic acid stimulates the synthesis of volatile substances, such as compounds of the terpenoid family. This defense strategy can be used by plants to attract the enemies of herbivorous insect larvae. Venkatesan Radhika, PhD student in the Department of Bioorganic Chemistry of the institute, wanted to find out, whether bracken ferns could also emit these attractants when they were attacked. She used larvae of two insect herbivore species to damage the fern fronds: fern specialist Strongylogaster multifasciata and the generalist herbivore Spodoptera littoralis, which feeds on many different plants. She also used a robotic device, MecWorm, which continuously punched a limited area of the fern frond with a metal bolt, thereby mimicking the mechanical wounding caused by feeding herbivores. The result: The fern fronds release only very small amounts of volatile compounds, if at all. Even the signal molecule jasmonic acid could hardly be detected in the fronds.

However, if fern fronds were directly treated with jasmonic acid, they responded like the leaves of flowering plants and they released a typical odor bouquet. The scientists studied this effect in more detail and discovered that the release of volatile terpenoids from the fern could even be induced by treatment with early precursors of jasmonic acid synthesis (OPDA and linolenic acid). Biochemical experiments revealed that these volatile terpenoids are produced by
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Contact: Dr. Wilhelm Boland
boland@ice.mpg.de
49-036-415-71201
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Source:Eurekalert  

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