Heavy metal stress can prime for herbivore-induced plant volatile emission
Heavy metals are important pollutants that can severely impact ecological foodwebs. In addition to direct toxic effects, these contaminants have been suggested to disrupt chemical communication channels between plants and insects that rely on volatile organic compounds (VOCs). We investigated how different concentrations of copper (Cu) and cadmium (Cd) stress affect the capacity of Zea mays to synthesize VOCs in the presence and absence of herbivorous insects. Hydroponically grown maize exposed to a high and low concentration of either Cu or Cd showed stunted growth and lower photosynthetic capacities. Herbivores feeding on stressed plants also had attenuated growth rates. Heavy metal treatment alone did not induce VOC emission in maize plants; however, the higher Cu dose was found to prime for enhanced volatile production that can be triggered by caterpillar feeding. Cu stress correlated with increased levels of reactive oxygen species in roots and priming of herbivore-induced jasmonic acid in leaves. Plants challenged with Cd and herbivory did not differ in responses compared with herbivore-damaged controls with no heavy metals added to the substrate. For Cu stress, our results support the 'single biochemical mechanism for multiple stressors' model which predicts overlapping signalling and responses to abiotic and biotic stress factors.
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