J Integr Plant Biol. ›› 2016, Vol. 58 ›› Issue (4): 343-349.DOI: 10.1111/jipb.12447

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Language of plants: Where is the word?

Maja Šimpraga1,3**, Junji Takabayashi2 and Jarmo K. Holopainen3   

  1. 1Botanical Garden, Faculty of Science, Ghent University, Ledeganck 35, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
    2Center for Ecological Research, Kyoto University, 2-509-3 Hirano, Otsu, Shiga 520-2113, Japan
    3Department of Environmental Science, University of Eastern Finland, P.O. Box 1627 Kuopio, Finland


Plants emit biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) causing transcriptomic, metabolomic and behavioral responses in receiver organisms. Volatiles involved in such responses are often called “plant language”. Arthropods having sensitive chemoreceptors can recognize language released by plants. Insect herbivores, pollinators and natural enemies respond to composition of volatiles from plants with specialized receptors responding to different types of compounds. In contrast, the mechanism of how plants “hear” volatiles has remained obscured. In a plant-plant communication, several individually emitted compounds are known to prime defense response in receiver plants with a specific manner according to the chemical structure of each volatile compound. Further, composition and ratio of volatile compounds in the plant-released plume is important in plant-insect and plant-plant interactions mediated by plant volatiles. Studies on volatile-mediated plant-plant signaling indicate that the signaling distances are rather short, usually not longer than one meter. Volatile communication from plants to insects such as pollinators could be across distances of hundreds of meters. As many of the herbivore induced VOCs have rather short atmospheric life times, we suggest that in long-distant communications with plant volatiles, reaction products in the original emitted compounds may have additional information value of the distance to emission source together with the original plant-emitted compounds.

Key words: Green leaf volatiles, plant-insect communication, plant language, semiochemicals, volatiles

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