How rainfall, relative humidity and temperature influence volatile emissions from apple trees in situ

15 November 2019

Vallat, A., Gu, H., Dorn, S.

Phytochemistry, 2005, 66(13), 1540-1550

Headspace volatiles from apple-bearing twigs were collected in the field with a Radiello sampler during three different diurnal periods over the complete fruit growing season. Analyses by thermal desorption–GC–MS identified a total of 62 compounds in changing quantities, including the terpenoids α-pinene, camphene, β-pinene, limonene, β-caryophyllene and (E,E)-α-farnesene, the aldehydes (E)-2-hexenal, benzaldehyde and nonanal, and the alcohol (Z)-3-hexen-1-ol. The variations in emission of these plant odours were statistically related to temperature, humidity and rainfall in the field. Remarkably, rainfall had a significant positive influence on changes in volatile release during all three diurnal periods, and further factors of significance were temperature and relative humidity around noon, relative humidity in the late afternoon, and temperature and relative humidity during the night. Rainfall was associated consistently with an increase in the late afternoon in terpene and aldehyde volatiles with a known repellent effect on the codling moth, one of the key pests of apple fruit. During the summer of 2003, a season characterized by below-average rainfall, some postulated effects of drought on trees were tested by establishing correlations with rainfall. Emissions of the wood terpenes α-pinene, β-pinene and limonene were negatively correlated with rainfall. Another monoterpene, camphene, was only detected in this summer but not in the previous years, and its emissions were negatively correlated with rainfall, further supporting the theory that drought can result in higher formation of secondary metabolites. Finally, the two green leaf volatiles (E)-2-hexenal and (Z)-3-hexen-1-ol were negatively correlated with rainfall, coinciding well with the expectation that water deficit stress increases activity of lipoxygenase. To our knowledge, this work represents the first empirical study concerning the influence of abiotic factors on volatile emissions from apple trees in situ.