Insect herbivores by necessity have to deal with a large arsenal of plant defence metabolites. The levels of defence compounds may be increased by insect damage. These induced plant responses may also affect the metabolism and performance of successive insect herbivores. As the chemical nature of induced responses is largely unknown, global metabolomic analyses are a valuable tool to gain more insight into the metabolites possibly involved in such interactions. This study analyzed the interaction between feral cabbage (Brassica oleracea) and small cabbage white caterpillars (Pieris rapae) and how previous attacks to the plant affect the caterpillar metabolism. Because plants may be induced by shoot and root herbivory, we compared shoot and root induction by treating the plants on either plant part with jasmonic acid. Extracts of the plants and the caterpillars were chemically analysed using Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography/Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry (UPLCT/MS). The study revealed that the levels of three structurally related coumaroylquinic acids were elevated in plants treated on the shoot. The levels of these compounds in plants and caterpillars were highly correlated: these compounds were defined as the ‘metabolic interface’. The role of these metabolites could only be discovered using simultaneous analysis of the plant and caterpillar metabolomes. We conclude that a metabolomics approach is useful in discovering unexpected bioactive compounds involved in ecological interactions between plants and their herbivores and higher trophic levels.
Jansen, J. M., Allwood, J. W., Marsden-Edwards, E., Van der Putten, W. H., Goodacre, R., & Van Dam, N. M. (2009). Metabolic analysis of the interaction between plants and herbivores. Metabolomics, 5(1), 150-161. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11306-008-0124-4