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Exploring the Chemical Ecology of Gastropod-Insect-Plant Interactions

English title Exploring the Chemical Ecology of Gastropod-Insect-Plant Interactions
Applicant Turlings Théodoor
Number 166632
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Institut de Biologie Faculté des Sciences Université de Neuchâtel
Institution of higher education University of Neuchatel - NE
Main discipline Ecology
Start/End 01.06.2016 - 30.09.2019
Approved amount 618'159.00
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All Disciplines (4)

Agricultural and Forestry Sciences

Keywords (7)

plant-insect interaction; volatile organic compounds; Brassica rapa; Gastropoda; beneficial nematodes; invasive species; infochemical networks

Lay Summary (German)

Das Studium der Beziehungen zwischen Pflanzen und Pflanzenfressern nimmt einen wichtigen Platz in der Ökologie ein, wobei bislang vor allem pflanzenfressende Insekten im Zentrum des Interesses standen. Erstmalig erforschen wir in diesem Zusammenhang Landschnecken, eine andere sehr bedeutende Gruppe von Pflanzenfressern, und deren Einfluss auf die Wechselbeziehung zwischen Pflanzen, Insekten und deren natürlichen Feinden.
Lay summary

Landschnecken sind wichtige Schädlinge von Kulturpflanzen. Einige Arten wurden weltweit verschleppt und können in Ökosystemen, in denen sie sich neu ansiedeln, verheerende Auswirkungen haben. Aufgrund ihrer bedeutenden Stellung als Konsumenten kann man davon ausgehen, dass Schnecken eine grosse Rolle bei der Evolution der Pflanzenabwehr spielen. Von Gehäuse- und Nacktschnecken ist bekannt, dass sie in Pflanzen allgemeine Abwehrmechanismen auslösen können. Der von ihnen produzierte Schleim ist einmalig unter den Pflanzenfressern. Die Frage, wie dieser von den Pflanzen wahrgenommen wird und wie deren Stoffwechsel auf die darin enthaltenen Signalstoffe reagiert, wird erst seit kurzem untersucht.

Unser Projekt verfolgt das Ziel, neue Einsichten in die grundlegende chemische Ökologie der Wechselbeziehungen zwischen Nacktschnecken und Pflanzen zu gewinnen, die in biologische Bekämpfungsmethoden einfliessen können. Dazu untersuchen wir folgende Fragen:

  • Wie reagiert der pflanzliche Sekundärstoffwechsel auf Schneckenfrass, z.B. durch die Produktion von giftigen Stoffen?
  • Veranlasst Schneckenfrass die Pflanzen, Duftstoffe freizusetzen, die natürliche Feinde der Schnecken anlocken? Von Interesse sind dabei insbesondere von den Wurzeln produzierte Lockstoffe für Fadenwürmer (Nematoden), die Schnecken abtöten.
  • Wie beeinflusst die pflanzliche Abwehrreaktion, die durch Schneckenfrass ausgelöst wird, die Beziehungen zwischen Pflanzen und herbivoren Insekten sowie deren natürliche Feinde?

Ein zweites, anwendungsorientiertes Ziel ist, neue umweltfreundliche Strategien zur Bekämpfung von Nachtschnecken zu entwickeln. Im Zentrum stehen Alginatkugeln, mit deren Hilfe die erwähnten Fadenwürmer ausgebracht werden können und die noch zu identifizierende Schneckenlockstoffe enthalten sollen.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 17.05.2016

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



Evolutionary changes in an invasive plant support the defensive role of plant volatiles
Lin Tiantian, Vrieling Klaas, Laplanche Diane, Klinkhamer Peter G.L., Lou Yonggen, Bekooy Leon, Degen Thomas, Bustos-Segura Carlos, Turlings Ted C.J., Desurmont Gaylord A. (2021), Evolutionary changes in an invasive plant support the defensive role of plant volatiles, in Current Biology, 31(15), 3450-3456.e5.
Molecular detection and quantification of slug parasitic nematodes from the soil and their hosts
Jaffuel Geoffrey, Půža Vladimír, Hug Anna-Sofia, Meuli Reto Giulio, Nermuť Jiří, Turlings Ted C.J., Desurmont Gaylord A., Campos-Herrera Raquel (2019), Molecular detection and quantification of slug parasitic nematodes from the soil and their hosts, in Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, 160, 18-25.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
SIP/IOBC 2019 (52nd Annual Meeting of the Society for Invertebrate Pathology & 17th Meeting of the IOBC‐WPRS Working Group “Microbial and Nematode Control of Invertebrate Pests”) Talk given at a conference Finding feeding stimulants to improve the efficiency of a newly-developed product against the slug Arion vulgaris (Talk Diane Laplanche) 28.07.2019 Valencia, Spain Laplanche Diane; Turlings Théodoor;
33rd Symposium of the European Society of Nematologists (ESN) Talk given at a conference Improving the biocontrol potential of slug-killing nematodes (talk Geoffrey Jaffuel) 09.09.2018 Ghent, Belgium Jaffuel Geoffrey; Turlings Théodoor;
34th Annual Meeting of the International Society of Chemical Ecology Poster Finding a feeding stimulant to improve the efficiency of a newly-developed biocontrol product against Arion vulgaris slugs (Poster Diane Laplanche) 12.08.2018 Budapest, Hungary Turlings Théodoor; Laplanche Diane;
IOBC-WPRS Meeting WG Integrated Protection in Field Vegetables Talk given at a conference Improving the biocontrol potential of slug-killing nematodes: identification of new, highly lethal species and development of polymer beads for nematode application (talk Geoffrey Jaffuel) 02.10.2017 Wädenswil/Arenenberg, Switzerland Jaffuel Geoffrey; Turlings Théodoor;
Annual PhD meeting in Neuchâtel, organized by the Doctoral Program in Organismal Biology Talk given at a conference Uncovering the chemically-mediated interactions between slugs and their host plants 29.03.2017 Neuchâtel, Switzerland Turlings Théodoor; Laplanche Diane;

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
160786 Sugar wars: Glucose-mediated activation, neutralization and re-activation of defensive metabolites in a soil tritrophic system 01.10.2015 Sinergia
144621 Hydrocapsules as Trojan horses for the application of biological control agents against root pests 01.06.2012 National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCRs)
134413 InvaVol: Consequences of insect invasions for plant-insect interactions mediated by volatile organic compounds 01.04.2011 Project funding (special)
161904 Alginate beads as vehicles for the application of entomopathogenic nematodes and bacteria against economically important soil-dwelling pests 01.12.2015 NRP 68 Sustainable Use of Soil as a Resource
183365 Ultra High Performance Liquid Chromatography-High Resolution Tandem Mass Spectrometry (UHPLC-HRMS/MS) for metabolomics and identification of bioactive molecules 01.10.2019 R'EQUIP


The study of plant-herbivore interactions has been a cornerstone of modern ecology for decades. The focus has been on insect and mammalian herbivores and little attention has so far been paid to another group of plant attackers of fundamental importance: terrestrial mollusks belonging to the Gastropoda class, also known as snails and slugs. Here we propose a project with which we hope to provide novel insight into the interactions between gastropods and plants, and the consequences of these interactions for insect herbivores and natural enemies. Terrestrial mollusks are major plant consumers and constitute important pests for a variety of cultivated crops and vegetables. Several species of terrestrial mollusks are highly invasive worldwide, and the extent of their effects of native environments can be devastating. Because of their importance as plant consumers, gastropod herbivores are thought to play an important role in the evolution of plant defenses. Snails and slugs have been found to elicit general defensive pathways in plants. In particular, the mucus produced by snails and slugs is unique among herbivores and have highly distinctive chemical compositions and physical proprieties. Questions about how mucus is perceived by plants during gastropod locomotion or herbivory, and how the primary and secondary plant metabolisms are affected by mucus elicitors, have only been addressed in recent years. The potential effects of gastropods on plant defenses may have consequences on plant interactions with other plant attackers and may also have consequences at the third trophic level; for example, the volatile compounds emitted by plants in response to gastropod herbivory may affect the foraging behavior of the natural enemies of insect herbivores in search of prey or hosts. The here proposed project will also investigate plants produce volatiles that are attractive to gastropod natural enemies, in particular root volatiles attractive to mollusk-killing nematodes. The mismatch between the site of gastropod-inflicted damage (aboveground) and the site of natural enemy attraction (belowground) makes this system a truly unique case in plant-herbivore interactions and can be of utmost importance for the general debate on the evolution and relevance of plant indirect defenses. Finally, gastropods are often opportunistic feeders and may even consume insects, as we have observed in preliminary experiments. An important secondary aim of the project is to explore new, environmentally save strategies to control slugs. Terrestrial mollusks are known to orient themselves toward potential sources of food using chemoreceptors located on the tips of their tentacles. With techniques that we have successfully used to study chemical attractants for insects and entomopathogenic nematodes, we envision to identify potent gastropod attractants. These will then be implemented in a new pest management technique currently under development: the use of beads to release beneficial nematodes in agricultural soils. For the proposed study, beads would be filled with mollusk-killing nematodes and imbibed with attractant compounds to lure the gastropods to the beads.In short, the project aims to reveal novel fundamental insight into plant-herbivore interactions, as well as to develop new pest management tools. This will be achieved by addressing the following questions:A- How does gastropod herbivory affect the secondary metabolism and volatile emissions in plants?B- How does gastropod herbivory affect insect-plant interactions at the second and third trophic level?C- Does gastropod herbivory induce plants to emit volatiles that attract natural enemies? D- What biochemical compounds are particularly attractive to gastropods?E- Can nematode-releasing beads be used as an effective management technique against gastropods?