Mycorrhizae Alter Constitutive and Herbivore-Induced Volatile Emissions by Milkweeds

  • Amanda R. MeierEmail author
  • Mark D. Hunter


Plants use volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to cue natural enemies to their herbivore prey on plants. Simultaneously, herbivores utilize volatile cues to identify appropriate hosts. Despite extensive efforts to understand sources of variation in plant communication by VOCs, we lack an understanding of how ubiquitous belowground mutualists, such as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), influence plant VOC emissions. In a full factorial experiment, we subjected plants of two milkweed (Asclepias) species under three levels of AMF availability to damage by aphids (Aphis nerii). We then measured plant headspace volatiles and chemical defenses (cardenolides) and compared these to VOCs emitted and cardenolides produced by plants without herbivores. We found that AMF have plant species-specific effects on constitutive and aphid-induced VOC emissions. High AMF availability increased emissions of total VOCs, two green leaf volatiles (3-hexenyl acetate and hexyl acetate), and methyl salicylate in A. curassavica, but did not affect emissions in A. incarnata. In contrast, aphids consistently increased emissions of 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one and benzeneacetaldehyde in both species, independent of AMF availability. Both high AMF availability and aphids alone suppressed emissions of individual terpenes. However, aphid damage on plants under high AMF availability increased, or did not affect, emissions of those terpenes. Lastly, aphid feeding suppressed cardenolide concentrations only in A. curassavica, and AMF did not affect cardenolides in either plant species. Our findings suggest that by altering milkweed VOC profiles, AMF may affect both herbivore performance and natural enemy attraction.


Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) Microbe-plant-insect interactions Indirect defense Asclepias Aphis nerii 



We would like to thank the Matthaei Botanical Gardens for greenhouse space and help with plant care. We gratefully acknowledge Lucas Michelotti, Hillary Streit, Anne Bonds, Kamren Johnson, Jackie Kristofik, and Kathleen Moriarty for help with the experiment and chemical analyses. We thank Christopher Frost and Ken Keefover-Ring for assistance in designing the volatile collection system. We also thank three reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier draft of the paper. The work was supported by a Block Grant, Matthaei Botanical Gardens Research Award, and Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant from the University of Michigan to ARM, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to ARM, and a National Science Foundation Division of Environmental Biology 1256115 grant to MDH.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of EntomologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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