Complex and Beautiful: Unraveling the Intricate Communication Systems among Plants and Insects

James H. Tumlinson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


My research focuses on elucidating the chemical communication systems linking plants, herbivores, and natural enemies. My interests in integrating chemistry and agriculture led to my graduate studies in the emerging field of chemical ecology. My thesis research resulted in the identification, synthesis, and application of boll weevil sex pheromones. My research group subsequently developed chemical lures for more than 20 species of pest insects. I then shifted my focus to some of the first studies of the chemical signals produced by plants being attacked by herbivores. When insects feed, elicitors in the insects rsquo oral secretions, such as volicitin, a fatty acid-amino acid conjugate elicitor, stimulate plants to release volatile organic compounds. Parasitoid wasps learn to associate these species-specific volatiles with their herbivore hosts. These volatiles also prime nearby plants to activate a faster and higher defense response upon attack. Throughout my career, I have collaborated with scientists from diverse disciplines to tackle fundamental questions in chemical ecology and create innovative solutions for insect management. Our collaborative research has fundamentally changed and improved our understanding of the ongoing coevolution of plants, their herbivores, and the natural enemies that attack those herbivores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalAnnual Review of Entomology
StatePublished - Jan 23 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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