Mechanisms of plant defense against insect herbivores

Plant Signal Behav. 2012 Oct 1;7(10):1306-20. doi: 10.4161/psb.21663. Epub 2012 Aug 20.


Plants respond to herbivory through various morphological, biochemicals, and molecular mechanisms to counter/offset the effects of herbivore attack. The biochemical mechanisms of defense against the herbivores are wide-ranging, highly dynamic, and are mediated both by direct and indirect defenses. The defensive compounds are either produced constitutively or in response to plant damage, and affect feeding, growth, and survival of herbivores. In addition, plants also release volatile organic compounds that attract the natural enemies of the herbivores. These strategies either act independently or in conjunction with each other. However, our understanding of these defensive mechanisms is still limited. Induced resistance could be exploited as an important tool for the pest management to minimize the amounts of insecticides used for pest control. Host plant resistance to insects, particularly, induced resistance, can also be manipulated with the use of chemical elicitors of secondary metabolites, which confer resistance to insects. By understanding the mechanisms of induced resistance, we can predict the herbivores that are likely to be affected by induced responses. The elicitors of induced responses can be sprayed on crop plants to build up the natural defense system against damage caused by herbivores. The induced responses can also be engineered genetically, so that the defensive compounds are constitutively produced in plants against are challenged by the herbivory. Induced resistance can be exploited for developing crop cultivars, which readily produce the inducible response upon mild infestation, and can act as one of components of integrated pest management for sustainable crop production.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Herbivory / physiology*
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Plant Growth Regulators / metabolism
  • Plants / enzymology
  • Plants / genetics
  • Plants / immunology*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / metabolism


  • Plant Growth Regulators
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Volatile Organic Compounds