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Open Access Research article

Constitutive emission of the aphid alarm pheromone, (E)-β-farnesene, from plants does not serve as a direct defense against aphids

Grit Kunert*, Carolina Reinhold and Jonathan Gershenzon

Author Affiliations

Department of Biochemistry, Max-Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Hans-Knöll Str. 8, 07745 Jena, Germany

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BMC Ecology 2010, 10:23  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-10-23

Published: 23 November 2010

Abstract

Background

The sesquiterpene, (E)-β-farnesene (EBF), is the principal component of the alarm pheromone of many aphid species. Released when aphids are attacked by enemies, EBF leads aphids to undertake predator avoidance behaviors and to produce more winged offspring that can leave the plant. Many plants also release EBF as a volatile, and so it has been proposed that this compound could act to defend plants against aphid infestation by 1) deterring aphids from settling, 2) reducing aphid performance due to frequent interruption of feeding and 3) inducing the production of more winged offspring. Here we tested the costs and benefits of EBF as a defense against the green peach aphid, Myzus persicae, using transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana lines engineered to continuously emit EBF.

Results

No metabolic costs of EBF synthesis could be detected in these plants as they showed no differences in growth or seed production from wild-type controls under two fertilizer regimes. Likewise, no evidence was found for the ability of EBF to directly defend the plant against aphids. EBF emission did not significantly repel winged or wingless morphs from settling on plants. Nor did EBF reduce aphid performance, measured as reproduction, or lead to an increase in the proportion of winged offspring.

Conclusions

The lack of any defensive effect of EBF in this study might be due to the fact that natural enemy attack on individual aphids leads to a pulsed emission, but the transgenic lines tested continuously produce EBF to which aphids may become habituated. Thus our results provide no support for the hypothesis that plant emission of the aphid alarm pheromone EBF is a direct defense against aphids. However, there is scattered evidence elsewhere in the literature suggesting that EBF emission might serve as an indirect defense by attracting aphid predators.