Plants emit "call for backup" when pests lay eggs on them, Dutch researchers find

The discovery that plants can detect and respond to the presence of pest eggs has highlighted the complex interactions between crops and beneficial insects.

eggs of the cabbage white butterfly - image: Dean Morley
eggs of the cabbage white butterfly - image: Dean Morley

Researchers at Wageningen University and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology found that plants not only detect when an insect pest lays its eggs, but also respond by emitting chemical signals which both repel other pests and also attract predators to feed on them.

The team found that when female large cabbage white butterflies (Pieris brassicae) laid eggs on black mustard (Brassica nigra), a member of the cabbage family, specific chemical and structural changes took place in the plants that drew parasitic wasps to attack the eggs or the subsequent caterpillars, while also repelling other egg-laying butterflies.

When a less common pest, the cabbage moth (Mamestra brassicae), laid eggs on the plants however, no such reaction took place.

The study was published in the journal PLoS One last month and can be read in full here.


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