Plants can respond to music and single tones with altered growth or germination, but the ecological significance of this response has been unknown. We have shown that plants respond to the vibrations caused by herbivore feeding with an increased production of two kinds of chemical defenses upon subsequent attack. Neither wind nor an insect song elicited this response. This priming of chemical defense by feeding vibrations – in the absence of an actual caterpillar – indicates that vibration signaling can be a rapid and selective method of systemic signaling in plants. To read more about this work, please see the Oecologia article and media coverage.
We are currently working to identify components of the vibrational signal contributing to the induced response, the role of plant mechanoreceptors in the process, and the importance of feeding vibrations in other plant-insect systems.