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Plants under attack by aboveground herbivores emit complex blends of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Specific compounds in these blends are used by parasitic wasps to find their hosts. Belowground induction causes shifts in the composition of aboveground induced VOC blends, which affect the preference of parasitic wasps. To identify which of the many volatiles in the complex VOC blends may explain parasitoid preference poses a challenge to ecologists. Here, we present a case study in which we use a novel bioinformatics approach to identify biologically relevant differences between VOC blends of feral cabbage (Brassica oleracea L.). The plants were induced aboveground or belowground with jasmonic acid (JA) and shoot feeding caterpillars (Pieris brassicae or P. rapae). We used Partial Least Squares—Discriminant Analysis (PLSDA) to integrate and visualize the relation between plant-emitted VOCs and the preference of female Cotesia glomerata. Overall, female wasps preferred JA-induced plants over controls, but they strongly preferred aboveground JA-induced plants over belowground JA-induced plants. PLSDA revealed that the emission of several monoterpenes was enhanced similarly in all JA-treated plants, whereas homoterpenes and sesquiterpenes increased exclusively in aboveground JA-induced plants. Wasps may use the ratio between these two classes of terpenes to discriminate between aboveground and belowground induced plants. Additionally, it shows that aboveground applied JA induces different VOC biosynthetic pathways than JA applied to the root. Our bioinformatic approach, thus, successfully identified which VOCs matched the preferences of the wasps in the various choice tests. Additionally, the analysis generated novel hypotheses about the role of JA as a signaling compound in aboveground and belowground induced responses in plants.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Journal publication date2010

ID: 305229