Maize Plants Recognize Herbivore-Associated Cues from Caterpillar Frass

Swayamjit Ray, Iffa Gaffor, Flor E. Acevedo, Anjel Helms, Wen Po Chuang, John Tooker, Gary W. Felton, Dawn S. Luthe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Caterpillar behaviors such as feeding, crawling, and oviposition are known to induce defenses in maize and other plant species. We examined plant defense responses to another important caterpillar behavior, their defecation. Fall armyworms (FAW, Spodoptera frugiperda), a major threat to maize (Zea mays), are voracious eaters and deposit copious amounts of frass in the enclosed whorl tissue surrounding their feeding site, where it remains for long periods of time. FAW frass is composed of molecules derived from the host plant, the insect itself, and associated microbes, and hence provides abundant cues that may alter plant defense responses. We observed that proteins from FAW frass initially induced wound-responsive defense genes in maize; however, a pathogenesis-related (pr) defense gene was induced as the time after application increased. Elicitation of pathogen defenses by frass proteins was correlated with increased herbivore performance and reduced fungal pathogen performance over time. These responses differ from the typical plant response to oral secretions of the FAW. The results pave the way for identification of protein molecule(s) from the excretion of an herbivore that elicits pathogen defense responses while attenuating herbivore defenses in plants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)781-792
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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