Soil legacy effects alter plant volatile emissions in response to diversified cropping systems

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture


Soil microbes can influence the emissions of plant volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that serve as host-location cues for insects and their natural enemies. The influence of the soil microbial community on the plasticity of plant VOC synthesis and emissions is particularly important in agricultural settings where crop rotations and management practices cause significant shifts in the soil microbiome. Studies have shown agricultural soils to influence plant-insect interactions through changes in foliar chemistry, but their potential to alter VOC emissions is unknown. To determine the effect of diversified agricultural practices on crop VOC emissions through microbe-mediated soil legacy effects, I measured VOCs from wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) in a series of field and greenhouse experiments. In Chapter II, I determined the effect of the soil microbiome on VOCs in the greenhouse by first measuring VOCs from wheat plants grown in sterilized soil or soil with added inoculum from an agricultural field. Next, to determine the effect of diversified agricultural practices on VOC phenotypes, I measured VOCs from wheat plants in the field in rotation with either fallow or a mixture of cover crops that was terminated by grazing cows. Finally, in Chapter III, I explored the interactive effect of herbivory and the soil microbiome on VOC emissions in a full factorial experiment in which wheat grown in soil inoculum from wheat-fallow or wheat-cover crop rotation that was subjected to larval feeding by the wheat stem sawfly (WSS; Cephus cinctus Norton), a major pest of wheat. Across all studies I found that soils associated with a higher microbial diversity--cover crop soils and inoculated soils--tended to emit more total VOCs and blends that would likely increase pest resistance to the WSS through 1) shifts in key bioactive compounds and 2) enhanced herbivore-induced VOC emissions. Results also suggest that soil microbes may be more likely to alter plant VOCs when plants experience abiotic or biotic stressors. Together, these results suggest that agricultural practices may indirectly influence plant resistance through microbe-altered VOCs, and these effects are more likely to occur when plants experience additional stressors, such as herbivory or drought.




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