Plants are ubiquitously exposed to a wide diversity of (micro)organisms, including mutualists and antagonists. Prior to direct contact, plants can perceive microbial organic and inorganic volatile compounds (hereafter: volatiles) from a distance that, in turn, may affect plant development and resistance. To date, however, the specificity of plant responses to volatiles emitted by pathogenic and non-pathogenic fungi and the ecological consequences of such responses remain largely elusive. We investigated whether Arabidopsis thaliana plants can differentiate between volatiles of pathogenic and non-pathogenic soil-borne fungi. We profiled volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and measured CO2 emission of 11 fungi. We assessed the main effects of fungal volatiles on plant development and insect resistance. Despite distinct differences in VOC profiles between the pathogenic and non-pathogenic fungi, plants did not discriminate, based on plant phenotypic responses, between pathogenic and non-pathogenic fungi. Overall, plant growth was promoted and flowering was accelerated upon exposure to fungal volatiles, irrespectively of fungal CO2 emission levels. In addition, plants became significantly more susceptible to a generalist insect leaf-chewing herbivore upon exposure to the volatiles of some of the fungi, demonstrating that a prior fungal volatile exposure can negatively affect plant resistance. These data indicate that plant development and resistance can be modulated in response to exposure to fungal volatiles.
- Arabidopsis thaliana Fungal volatiles Plant development Plant pathogens Plant resistance