Journal Article

Olfactory selection of <i>Plantago lanceolata</i> by snails declines with seedling age

M. E. Hanley, R. D. Girling, A. E. Felix, E. D. Olliff, P. L. Newland and G. M. Poppy

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 112, issue 4, pages 671-676
Published in print August 2013 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online February 2013 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Olfactory selection of Plantago lanceolata by snails declines with seedling age

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Background and Aims

Despite recent recognition that (1) plant–herbivore interactions during the establishment phase, (2) ontogenetic shifts in resource allocation and (3) herbivore response to plant volatile release are each pivotal to a comprehensive understanding of plant defence, no study has examined how herbivore olfactory response varies during seedling ontogeny.


Using a Y-tube olfactometer we examined snail (Helix aspersa) olfactory response to pellets derived from macerated Plantago lanceolata plants harvested at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 weeks of age to test the hypothesis that olfactory selection of plants by a generalist herbivore varies with plant age. Plant volatiles were collected for 10 min using solid-phase microextraction technique on 1- and 8-week-old P. lanceolata pellets and analysed by gas chromatography coupled with a mass spectrometer.

Key Results

Selection of P. lanceolata was strongly negatively correlated with increasing age; pellets derived from 1-week-old seedlings were three times more likely to be selected as those from 8-week-old plants. Comparison of plant selection experiments with plant volatile profiles from GC/MS suggests that patterns of olfactory selection may be linked to ontogenetic shifts in concentrations of green leaf volatiles and ethanol (and its hydrolysis derivatives).


Although confirmatory of predictions made by contemporary plant defence theory, this is the first study to elucidate a link between seedling age and olfactory selection by herbivores. As a consequence, this study provides a new perspective on the ontogenetic expression of seedling defence, and the role of seedling herbivores, particularly terrestrial molluscs, as selective agents in temperate plant communities.

Keywords: Green leaf volatiles; seedling herbivory; olfactory response; snails; Helix aspersa; ontogeny; plant defence; Plantago lanceolata; seedling establishment; volatile organic compounds

Journal Article.  4286 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Plant Ecology

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