Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are important plant mutualists that can connect roots of neighboring plants to form common mycelial networks. A recent study demonstrated that these networks can act as conduits for aphid-induced signals between plants, activating chemical defenses in uninfested neighboring plants so that they become unattractive to aphids but attractive to their enemies (parasitoids). The benefit to the neighboring plants will increase if the signal speed is rapid, enabling them to respond before aphids attack. Here, we determine the speed of aphid-induced signal transfer between plants infested with aphids (“donor”) and neighboring aphid-free plants that were either connected or unconnected to the donor via a common mycelial network. Induced changes in plant volatiles from neighbors connected to donors started within 24 h of aphid infestation of donors. This demonstrates a rapid signal, implying potential benefit to plants receiving the signal, and raises intriguing ecological and evolutionary questions.
Z Babikova, L Gilbert, TJA Bruce, M Birkett, JC Caulfield, C Woodcock, et al. Underground signals carried through common mycelial networks warn neighbouring plants of aphid attack. Ecol Lett 2013; 16: 835- 43.
PMID: 23656527 DOI: 10.1111/ele.12115