Agricultural Systems

Induced plant defenses can aid pest control in agricultural systems. Attracting natural enemies of herbivores to crops can help control pests in agriculture; in the field as well as in greenhouses (Dicke et al. 1990a; Turlings and Ton 2006). Therefore, understanding the mechanisms involved in plant defenses and the consequences for the community associated with the plant can aid crop protection. Manipulation may increase the effectiveness of plant defenses, by attracting natural enemies before considerable damage is done by herbivores and by deterring oviposition by herbivores. This can be achieved by inducing the plant with phytohormones like cis-jasmone or jasmonic acid (Thaler 1999; Birkett et al. 2000; Heil 2004). Another possibility is the use of genetically modified crops that produce volatile blends that are more attractive to predators than genotypes currently used. The technology is being developed (Kappers et al. 2005; Schnee et al. 2006). However, the consequences for the community, above- as well as belowground, and the effect on interactions between different community members still need to be addressed (Groot and Dicke 2002; Kowalchuk et al. 2003).

A lot of the research on genetic modification of plant defense has been done in the model plant A. thaliana, for which many mutants are available (Turlings and Ton 2006). Knowledge about A. thaliana can be extrapolated to Brassica species, and therefore readily be applied in agricultural settings with crop species like Brassica oleracea or wild Brassica species (Broekgaarden et al. 2007; Zheng et al. 2007). In conclusion, the step from the laboratory into the field has not been made often yet. It will be important to make this step for different plant species to gain insight into the effects of induced indirect defense on community processes.

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