“Help is in the air”: volatiles from salt-stressed plants increase the reproductive success of receivers under salinity

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Main conclusion

Salinity alters VOC profile in emitter sweet basil plants. Airborne signals by emitter plants promote earlier flowering of receivers and increase their reproductive success under salinity.


Airborne signals can prime neighboring plants against pathogen and/or herbivore attacks, whilst little is known about the possibility that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by stressed plants alert neighboring plants against abiotic stressors. Salt stress (50 mM NaCl) was imposed on Ocimum basilicum L. plants (emitters, namely NaCl), and a putative alerting-priming interaction was tested on neighboring basil plants (receivers, namely NaCl-S). Compared with the receivers, the NaCl plants exhibited reduced biomass, lower photosynthesis, and changes in the VOC profile, which are common early responses of plants to salinity. In contrast, NaCl-S plants had physiological parameters similar to those of nonsalted plants (C), but exhibited a different VOC fingerprint, which overlapped, for most compounds, with that of emitters. NaCl-S plants exposed later to NaCl treatment (namely NaCl-S + NaCl) exhibited changes in the VOC profile, earlier plant senescence, earlier flowering, and higher seed yield than C + NaCl plants. This experiment offers the evidence that (1) NaCl-triggered VOCs promote metabolic changes in NaCl-S plants, which, finally, increase reproductive success and (2) the differences in VOC profiles observed between emitters and receivers subjected to salinity raise the question whether the receivers are able to “propagate” the warning signal triggered by VOCs in neighboring companions.

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Fig. 1
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A N :

Net photosynthesis

F 0/F m/F v :

Minimal/maximal/variable chlorophyll fluorescence yield in dark-adapted leaves

g s :

Stomatal conductance


Principal component analyses


Volatile organic compound


Water use efficiency


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This study in part was supported by the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR), project SIR-2014 cod. RBSI14L9CE (MEDANAT).

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Correspondence to Marco Landi.

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Landi, M., Araniti, F., Flamini, G. et al. “Help is in the air”: volatiles from salt-stressed plants increase the reproductive success of receivers under salinity. Planta 251, 48 (2020) doi:10.1007/s00425-020-03344-y

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  • Airborne signal
  • Emitter
  • Infochemical
  • Plant–plant communication
  • Receiver
  • Salt stress