Infochemical Webs and Tritrophic Interactions


Plant volatiles mediate tritrophic interactions between plants, herbivorous arthropods and the carnivorous natural enemies of herbivores in various ways. These volatiles are classified into two categories: herbivore‐induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) and constitutively emitted plant volatiles. Herbivores and carnivores use these plant volatiles as information for effective foraging. Consequently, infochemical webs based on the multifunctional aspects of HIPVs can be constructed. This article reviews the ecological function of plant volatiles in a single tritrophic system and the effects of the coupling of two tritrophic systems on the function of plant volatiles with emphasis on the infochemical webs in tritrophic systems. Furthermore, prospects for the application of HIPVs that attract specific natural enemies are discussed.

Key Concepts:

  • In response to herbivore‐induced damage, plants emit the so‐called ‘herbivore‐induced plant volatiles (HIPVs)’ that are not naturally emitted from plants or in many cases emitted only in trace amounts.

  • The mixtures of HIPVs vary according to the type of plants: herbivores and carnivores.

  • Both HIPVs and constitutively emitted plant volatiles are separately and/or simultaneously used by both herbivores and carnivores to form infochemical webs.

  • Coupling the two tritrophic systems on the same plants affects the infochemical webs of each tritrophic system either positively or negatively.

  • HIPVs would be a new tool for biological control. This requires comprehensive studies on the target agroecosystem.

Keywords: tritrophic interactions; infochemicals; herbivore‐induced plant volatiles; parasitic wasps; predatory mites; herbivorous arthropods; biological control

Figure 1.

Infochemical webs of willow plants (S. eriocarpa), willow leaf beetles (P. versicolora), and ladybirds (A. hexaspilota). Reproduced with permission from Yoneya and Takabayashi (). © Taylor & Francis.

Figure 2.

(a) A tritrophic interaction of cabbage plants, diamondback moth (DBM) larvae, and parasitic wasps C. vestalis. When infested by DBM larvae, cabbage plants start emitting HIPVs that attract C. vestalis (the red arrow line to C. vestalis). (b) When CWB larvae are coupled to the system, the attractiveness of HIPVs emitted from dual‐infested cabbage plants is reduced because of the qualitative and quantitative changes in the mixture of HIPVs (the red dotted arrow line to C. vestalis). (c) As a consequence, the incidence of parasitism is reduced (the black dotted line between C. vestalis and DBM larvae), with an increased level of damage to the cabbage plants (the thick blue line between DBM larvae and cabbage plant) from the reduced attractiveness of dual‐infested plants (indirect effects from CWB larvae to C. vestalis, DBM larvae and a cabbage plant). (d) DBM females prefer to oviposit on dual‐infested plants where a low mortality rate is expected (an indirect effect from CWB larvae to DBM females).

Figure 3.

(a) A tritrophic interaction of cabbage plants, CWB larvae, and parasitic wasps C. glomerata. When infested by CWB larvae, cabbage plants start emitting HIPVs that attract C. glomerata (the blue arrow line to C. glomerata). (b) When diamondback moth (DBM) larvae are coupled to the system, the attractiveness of HIPVs emitted from dual‐infested cabbage plants is increased because of the qualitative and quantitative changes in the mixture of HIPVs (the blue thickened arrow line to C. glomerata). (c) Consequently, the incidence of parasitism is increased (the black thickened line between C. glomerata and CWB larvae), with a decrease in the level of damage level to cabbage plants (the purple dotted line between CWB larvae and cabbage plant) from the increased attractiveness of dual‐infested plants (indirect effects from DBM larvae to C. glomerata (+), CWB larvae (−) and a cabbage plant (−)). (d) The increased parasitism does not affect the oviposition preference of CWB females (dotted grey arrow lines from DBM larvae to CWB females).



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Further Reading

Karban R, Yang LH and Edwards KF (2014) Volatile communication between plants that affects herbivory: a meta‐analysis. Ecology letters 17: 44–52.

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Takabayashi, Junji(Jun 2014) Infochemical Webs and Tritrophic Interactions. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0021912]