Plants Respond to Attacks by Insects

Plant behavior. Plants respond to attacks by insects with complex changes in their metabolism, including the production of toxic and anti-digestive chemicals as well as odors. In other words, plants taste and smell differently after an insect attack. These changes have far-reaching consequences.  Plant behavior affects interactions with herbivores (plant-eaters), with the enemies of their enemies (predators), pollinators, and with neighboring plants.

Cornell University’s, Andrew Kessler’s lab uses molecular and chemical techniques to study the physiological mechanisms, ecological consequences and evolution of plant responses to herbivore attack.

In one example the lab found that a wild tomato species, Solanum peruvianum, growing in the Peruvian Andes changes its vegetative and floral odors when attacked by herbivores. As a consequence, pollinating bees avoid flowers on herbivore-attacked plants. Not being visited by pollinators can significantly reduce reproduction of the plant and cause an individual plant’s lineage to decline or disappear. Examples like this illustrate the power of plant behavior in altering the biological community of friends and foes and emphasize the importance of understanding the roles and effects of plant compounds in order to apply plant defensive strategies in agricultural pest control.

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