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J Chem Ecol. 2002 Nov;28(11):2343-69.

Methyl jasmonate as an allelopathic agent: sagebrush inhibits germination of a neighboring tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata.

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Max-Planck-Institute for Chemical Ecology, Beutenberg Campus, Winzerlaer Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany.


Artemisia tridentata ssp. tridentata is the dominant and defining shrub in the Great Basin Desert, with well-documented allelopathic tendencies that have generally been ascribed to its most abundantly released secondary metabolites. However, as a minor component, sagebrush releases a highly biologically active substance, methyljasmonate (MeJA), which is known to function as both a germination inhibitor and promoter in laboratory studies. Nicotiana attenuata is a tobacco species native to the Great Basin Desert and grows in newly burned juniper-sagebrush habitats for 2-3 yr following a fire. With a combination of field and laboratory studies, we examined the role of MeJA release from sagebrush by both air and water transport in inhibiting N. attenuata seed germination. We demonstrated that sagebrush interacts allelopathically with the seed bank of N. attenuata through its release of MeJA. In the field, seeds buried 0-40 cm from sagebrush plants for 4 months in net bags had significantly reduced germination compared to seeds buried similarly but protected in plastic bags. Moreover, germination on soils collected from underneath sagebrush plants was reduced by 60% compared to seeds placed on soils collected between sagebrush plants or outside of the sagebrush population. Exposure to A. tridentata seeds and seedlings did not affect N. attenuata germination, suggesting that established sagebrush plants only influence the tobacco's seed bank. In the laboratory, exposure of seeds to sagebrush emissions resulted in germination delays of up to 6 d. Exposure to volatile and aqueous MeJA also inhibited germination of N. attenuata seeds at quantities that are released naturally by sagebrush: 3.5 microg/hr and 1.12 microg/seed cup (56 ng/seed), respectively. A. tridentata seeds were significantly more resistant to MeJA, being inhibited at 336 microg MeJA (16.8 microg/seed), 300 times greater than the level of aqueous MeJA required to inhibit N. attenuata seeds. MeJA inhibited N. attenuata germination regardless of the seed's dormancy state and the specific epimer (trans- or cis-) of MeJA. Germination on sagebrush chaff that had been heated to reduce MeJA content was negatively correlated with the amount of MeJA remaining in the chaff. Germination of a nondormant, conspecific tobacco, N. trigonophylla, which grows in the same area but is not associated with fire, is less sensitive than N. attenuata to the extracts of sagebrush litter, but similarly sensitive to MeJA. Additionally, four of five other tobacco species that are not known to be associated with sagebrush are less sensitive to MeJA, suggesting an evolved sensitivity to MeJA. To determine the proportion of germination inhibition of a sagebrush extract that could be attributed to MeJA, we serially diluted sagebrush extracts with water and restored the quantity of MeJA of the original extract by adding appropriate quantities of synthetic MeJA; 16-60% of the inhibitory activity of the original extract could be attributed to the MeJA. We conclude that MeJA release from sagebrush plays an allelopathic role for N. attenuata seed banks, but other unidentified compounds are also involved.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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