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When plants are being attacked by herbivore insects, they protect themselves by emitting volatiles that attract enemies of the insects. This has already been well investigated in greenhouse settings and on smaller plants but very little research has been done under natural conditions and on trees. In this video, SYBILLE UNSICKER explains how the research team studied this pattern in the forest ecosystem while also controlling for the influence of different land management regimes on the so-called “indirect plant defense”. The results show that predatory insects were indeed more attracted to the trees which were infested with caterpillars during the experiment. Surprisingly the forest management regime had no influence on the attraction of natural enemies.


Sybille Unsicker is Principal Investigator at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena (Germany) and an associated member of the Terrestrial Ecology Research Group at Technical University Munich. Her research focuses on the feeding ecology of herbivorous insects and the chemical ecology of poplar.

She is a member of the Society for Tropical Ecology, the Ecological Society of America and the Ecological Society of Germany.


Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology

The Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology (MPI-CE) investigates how organisms communicate with each other via chemical signals. We study how plants best adapt to their respective environments and identify the chemical compounds they produce to attract pollinators, fend off herbivores and pathogens, or keep unpleasant competitors away. In the course of evolution, insects have adapted to the survival strategies of plants. We therefore analyze the genetics, physiology and behavior of herbivorous insects. Insects also make use of plant substances to protect themselves against predators: They sequester toxic compounds; some insects even signal by exhibiting their bright colors that they should better not be eaten. Microorganisms play a crucial role in the fitness of plants and insects. Some are pathogens, others are symbiotic partners and help to supply nutrients or boost the immune system. We want to determine who plays which role. The MPI-CE was founded in 1996 and is part of the Max Planck Society. Together with Friedrich Schiller University Jena, it runs the International Max Planck Research School Chemical Communication in Ecological Systems, a graduate school for excellent international graduates. 
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Original publication

Insect Attraction to Herbivore-Induced Beech Volatiles under Different Forest Management Regimes

Gershenzon Jonathan, Unsicker Sybille B., Weisser Wolfgang W. and Gossner Martin M.
Published in 2014

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