Evolutionary patterns of volatile terpene emissions across 202 tropical tree species

Elodie A. Courtois, Kyle Dexter, C. E. Timothy Paine, Didier Stien, Julien Engel, Christopher Baraloto, Jerome Chave

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Plant responses to natural enemies include formation of secondary metabolites acting as direct or indirect defenses. Volatile terpenes represent one of the most diverse groups of secondary metabolites. We aimed to explore evolutionary patterns of volatile terpene emission. We measured the composition of damage-induced volatile terpenes from 202 Amazonian tree species, spanning the angiosperm phylogeny. Volatile terpenes were extracted with solid-phase micro extraction and desorbed in a gas chromatography–mass spectrometry for compound identification. The chemical diversity of the terpene blend showed a strong phylogenetic signal as closely related species emitted a similar number of compounds. Closely related species also tended to have compositionally similar blends, although this relationship was weak. Meanwhile, the ability to emit a given compound showed no significant phylogenetic signal for 200 of 286 compounds, indicating a high rate of diversification in terpene synthesis and/or great variability in their expression. Three lineages (Magnoliales, Laurales, and Sapindales) showed exceptionally high rates of terpene diversification. Of the 70 compounds found in >10% of their species, 69 displayed significant correlated evolution with at least one other compound. These results provide insights into the complex evolutionary history of volatile terpenes in angiosperms, while highlighting the need for further research into this important class of compounds.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology and Evolution
Early online date22 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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