Can forest trees compensate for stress-generated growth losses by induced production of volatile compounds?

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Plants produce a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Under abiotic and biotic stresses, the number and amount of produced compounds can increase. Due to their long life span and large size, trees can produce biogenic VOCs (BVOCs) in much higher amounts than many other plants. It has been suggested that at cellular and tree physiological levels, induced production of VOCs is aimed at improving plant resistance to damage by reactive oxygen species generated by multiple abiotic stresses. In the few reported cases when biosynthesis of plant volatiles is inhibited or enhanced, the observed response to stress can be attributed to plant volatiles. Reported increase, e.g., in photosynthesis has mostly ranged between 5 and 50%. A comprehensive model to explain similar induction of VOCs under multiple biotic stresses is not yet available. As a result of pathogen or herbivore attack on forest trees, the induced production of VOCs is localized to the damage site but systemic induction of emissions has also been detected. These volatiles can affect fungal pathogens and the arrival rate of herbivorous insects on damaged trees, but also act as signalling compounds to maintain the trophic cascades that may improve tree fitness by improved efficiency of herbivore natural enemies. On the forest scale, biotic induction of VOC synthesis and release leads to an amplified flow of BVOCs in atmospheric reactions, which in atmospheres rich in oxides of nitrogen (NOx) results in ozone formation, and in low NOx atmospheres results in oxidation of VOCs, removal in ozone from the troposphere and the resulting formation of biogenic secondary organic aerosol (SOA) particles. I will summarize recent advances in the understanding of stress-induced VOC emissions from trees, with special focus on Populus spp. Particular importance is given to the ecological and atmospheric feedback systems based on BVOCs and biogenic SOA formation.

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