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J Chem Ecol. 2012 Jun;38(6):629-40. doi: 10.1007/s10886-012-0107-9. Epub 2012 Apr 12.

Induced immunity against belowground insect herbivores- activation of defenses in the absence of a jasmonate burst.

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  • 1Root-Herbivore Interactions Group, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Hans-Knöll-Str. 8, 07745, Jena, Germany. merb@ice.mpg.de


Roots respond dynamically to belowground herbivore attack. Yet, little is known about the mechanisms and ecological consequences of these responses. Do roots behave the same way as leaves, or do the paradigms derived from aboveground research need to be rewritten? This is the central question that we tackle in this article. To this end, we review the current literature on induced root defenses and present a number of experiments on the interaction between the root herbivore Diabrotica virgifera and its natural host, maize. Currently, the literature provides no clear evidence that plants can recognize root herbivores specifically. In maize, mild mechanical damage is sufficient to trigger a root volatile response comparable to D. virgifera induction. Interestingly, the jasmonate (JA) burst, a highly conserved signaling event following leaf attack, is consistently attenuated in the roots across plant species, from wild tobacco to Arabidopsis. In accordance, we found only a weak JA response in D. virgifera attacked maize roots. Despite this reduction in JA-signaling, roots of many plants start producing a distinct suite of secondary metabolites upon attack and reconfigure their primary metabolism. We, therefore, postulate the existence of additional, unknown signals that govern induced root responses in the absence of a jasmonate burst. Surprisingly, despite the high phenotypic plasticity of plant roots, evidence for herbivore-induced resistance below ground is virtually absent from the literature. We propose that other defensive mechanisms, including resource reallocation and compensatory growth, may be more important to improve plant immunity below ground.

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