Underground signals carried through common mycelial networks warn neighbouring plants of aphid attack

Zdenka Babivoka, Lucy Gilbert, Toby J.A. Bruce, Michael Birkett, John C. Caulfield, Christine Woodcock, John A. Pickett, David Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

262 Citations (Scopus)


The roots of most land plants are colonised by mycorrhizal fungi that provide mineral nutrients in exchange for carbon. Here we show that mycorrhizal mycelia can also act as a conduit for signalling between plants, acting as an early warning system for herbivore attack. Insect herbivory causes systemic changes in the production of plant volatiles, particularly methyl salicylate, making bean plants, Vicia faba, repellent to aphids but attractive to aphid enemies such as parasitoids. We demonstrate that these effects can also occur in aphid-free plants but only when they are connected to aphid-infested plants via a common mycorrhizal mycelial network. This underground messaging system allows neighbouring plants to invoke herbivore defences before attack. Our findings demonstrate that common mycorrhizal mycelial networks can determine the outcome of multitrophic interactions by communicating information on herbivore attack between plants, thereby influencing the behaviour of both herbivores and their natural enemies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)835-843
Number of pages9
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number7
Early online date9 May 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


  • abruscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • broad bean (vicia faba)
  • common mycelial networks
  • induced defence
  • multitrophic interactions
  • parasitoid wasp (Aphidius ervi)
  • pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum)
  • plant volatiles
  • plant-to-plant communication


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