Determining Defense Priming of Squash Plants (Curcubitaceae: Cucurbitales) Against Salt Marsh Moth (Lepidoptera: Erebidae)


  • Laura Marmolejo TAMU Student
  • Morgan Thompson Texas A&M
  • Anjel Helms Texas A&M


In response to being fed on by herbivores, plants produce volatile compounds that play important roles in plant defense. A relatively recent discovery revealed that undamaged neighboring plants can detect these volatiles as a warning of possible future herbivore attack and respond by priming their anti-herbivory defenses. Primed plants typically mount a faster or stronger defense after an herbivore begins feeding. Plant volatile-mediated priming has been observed in many plant species but has not yet been documented in the family Cucurbitaceae. Therefore, we sought to test if squash plants (Cucurbita pepo) respond to volatiles from herbivore-damaged plants by priming their defenses. Our objective was to evaluate plant priming in response to herbivory. For our objective, emitter plants were either damaged by specialist salt marsh moth caterpillars (Estigmene acrea) or left as undamaged controls. Neighboring “receiver” plants were exposed to damage or control emitter volatiles for 24 hours and then challenged with herbivory by larvae. We quantified the amount of herbivory on receivers and found a difference in damage between volatile exposed receivers and unexposed receivers. As well as a significant presence of salicylic acid in the exposed receivers before infection. Taken together, our findings contribute to a better understanding of plant defense priming and offer insight into how plants predict and defend against different herbivore species

Author Biographies

Morgan Thompson , Texas A&M

Texas A&M Department of Entomology, ph.D student 

Anjel Helms , Texas A&M

Texas A&M Department of Entomology, Assistant Professor