Insects use plant like a telephone

Apr 23, 2008

Dutch ecologist Roxina Soler and her colleagues have discovered that subterranean and aboveground herbivorous insects can communicate with each other by using plants as telephones. Subterranean insects issue chemical warning signals via the leaves of the plant. This way, aboveground insects are alerted that the plant is already ‘occupied’.

Aboveground, leaf-eating insects prefer plants that have not yet been occupied by subterranean root-eating insects. Subterranean insects emit chemical signals via the leaves of the plant, which warn the aboveground insects about their presence. This messaging enables spatially-separated insects to avoid each other, so that they do not unintentionally compete for the same plant.

In recent years it has been discovered that different types of aboveground insects develop slowly if they feed on plants that also have subterranean residents and vice versa. It seems that a mechanism has developed via natural selection, which enables the subterranean and aboveground insects to detect each other. This avoids unnecessary competition.

Via the 'green telephone lines', subterranean insects can also communicate with a third party, namely the natural enemy of caterpillars. Parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside aboveground insects. The wasps also benefit from the volatile signals emitted by the leaves, as these reveal where they can find a good host for their eggs. The communication between subterranean and aboveground insects has only been studied in a few systems. It is still not clear how widespread this phenomenon is.

Source: NWO

Explore further: Plant species evolved a way to determine most promising pollinator

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Is iron rain the reason why Earth and the moon are so different?

12 minutes ago

New experiments show that the asteroids that slammed into Earth and the moon more than 4 billion years ago were vaporised into a mist of iron. The findings, published in Nature Geoscience, suggest that the iron mist thrown up from the high ve ...

We must defend science if we want a prosperous future

37 minutes ago

Today's Australians are, by far, the best educated cohort in our history –- on paper, anyway -– but this is not reflected in the quality of our political discourse. We appear to be lacking in courage, ...

Geometry's least-packable shapes

39 minutes ago

If you've ever struggled to pack a bunch of suitcases into the trunk of your car, you've got some idea of a basic problem in materials science: if you throw a bunch of atoms or molecules together, how do ...

Few friends for shy kangaroos

42 minutes ago

Kangaroo social networks could provide insight into the evolution of human personality differences.

Recommended for you

Few friends for shy kangaroos

42 minutes ago

Kangaroo social networks could provide insight into the evolution of human personality differences.

A single target for microRNA regulation

52 minutes ago

It has generally been believed that microRNAs control biological processes by simultaneously, though modestly, repressing a large number of genes. But in a study published in Developmental Cell, a group ...

World's wildlife critical to the economies of nations

1 hour ago

Wildlife is critical to the economies of nations. New Zealand's wildlife – whales, dolphins, red deer, thar, albatross, kiwi, tuatara, fish and kauri – attract tourists. And the tourists who come to see ...

Modern methods lead the way toward a rhino rebound

1 hour ago

Cutting-edge technology and techniques have become essential tools in the effort to save rhinos. Micro chips, translocation and consumer campaigns are helping shift the balance against record-setting poaching ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.