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Current Research

Do Plants Make Scents in Theories of Plant Defense?

Plants respond to herbivory by evolving and inducing defenses against herbivores. Though plant defenses have been studied extensively, indirect defenses have not been incorporated into theories of plant defense. Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) are gases which can be emitted by vegetation. They play an important role in biosphere-atmosphere dynamics as well as in community interactions. VOCs have been shown to contribute to indirect plant defense against herbivores by attracting predators and parasitoids (higher trophic levels) to their herbivore hosts; however, the adaptive role of these plant signals in defense has not yet been shown convincingly. Multiple factors, biotic and abiotic, can influence plant VOC emission. For my dissertation work, I will implement field and greenhouse experiments to gauge the relative roles of environmental factors, genetic variation, community context, geographic variation, and herbivory in influencing plant VOC emission; integrate plant VOC emission into current models of plant defense theory; and consider whether VOC emission evolved as an adaptive response to herbivore pressure.

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Researcher Photograph

Dr. Robert Pillsbury