The effects of abiotic factors on induced volatile emissions in corn plants
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Many plants respond to herbivory by releasing a specific blend of volatiles that is attractive to natural enemies of the herbivores. In corn (Zea mays), this induced odor blend is mainly composed of terpenoids and indole. The induced signal varies with plant species and genotype, but little is known about the variation due to abiotic factors. Here, we tested the effect of soil humidity, air humidity, temperature, light, and fertilization rate on the emission of induced volatiles in young corn plants. Each factor was tested separately under constant conditions for the other factors. Plants released more when standing in dry soil than in wet soil, whereas for air humidity, the optimal release was found at around 60%, relative humidity. Temperatures between 22degreesC and 27degreesC led to a higher emission than lower or higher temperatures. Light intensity had a dramatic effect. The emission of volatiles did not occur in the dark and increased steadily with an increase in the light intensity. An experiment with an unnatural light-dark cycle showed that the release was fully photophase dependent. Fertilization also had a strong positive effect; the emission of volatiles was minimal when plants were grown under low nutrition, even when results were corrected for plant biomass. Changes in all abiotic factors caused small but significant changes in the relative ratios among the different compounds (quality) in the induced odor blends, except for air humidity. Hence, climatic conditions and nutrient availability can be important factors in determining the intensity and variability in the release of induced plant volatiles.
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