How do the plants obtain birds as bodyguards?

State of the art and the objectives

The goal of project is to answer questions about the abilities of herbivore-attacked plants to attract birds as bodyguards, which would help them to decrease the infestation by herbivores. Predatory arthropods are known to discriminate between infested and uninfested trees based on the chemical cues that plants emit (Schoonhoven et al. 2005). Although birds are traditionally considered to primarily use vision, recent evidence suggests that olfaction may be used more often than previously thought, also in foraging contexts (Nevitt 2011, Amo et al. 2013). My previous experiments show, that birds were attracted to trees with mechanically (by scissors) damaged leaves (Sam et al. 2015), and to chemically stimulated plants treated by methyl jasmonate (unpublished). From the infested tree’s point of view, the attraction of insectivorous birds could thus greatly reduce the number of feeding larvae (Mols and Visser 2002), may be beneficial in terms of decreased leaf damage and plant mortality (Mäntylä et al. 2011), and therefore, may have a positive impact on fitness.

My objective is to investigate in depth which blends of herbivore induced volatile compounds (if any) are responsible for the attraction of birds to insect infested trees, and how the interactions differ between individual study systems. While I am an excellent experimental and behavioural ecologists with great experiences with the study system, I am lacking a strong background where the chemical ecology is studied. Therefore, I approached Prof. Dr. Manfred Ayasse (University of Ulm) who integrates excellent cross-disciplinary research on chemical ecology which is lacking at Entomological Institute of Biology Centre CAS.

Resulting publications:

Mrazova, A., Sam, K., Amo, L., (2019) What do we know about birds’ use of plant volatile cues in tritrophic interactions? Current Opinions in Insect Science. In print