Plants are members of complex communities and interact both with antagonists and beneficial organisms. An important question in plant defense-signaling research is how plants integrate signals induced by pathogens, beneficial microbes and insects into the most appropriate adaptive response. Molecular and genomic tools are now being used to uncover the complexity of the induced defense signaling networks that have evolved during the arms races between plants and their attackers. Molecular biologists and ecologists are joining forces to place molecular mechanisms of plant defense into an ecological perspective. Here, we review our current understanding of the molecular mechanisms of induced plant defense and their potential ecological relevance in nature.