Projects / Programmes source: ARIS

Vibrational communication networks: from insects to plants

Research activity

Code Science Field Subfield
1.03.01  Natural sciences and mathematics  Biology  Zoology and zoophysiology 

Code Science Field
B005  Biomedical sciences  Zoology 

Code Science Field
1.06  Natural Sciences  Biological sciences 
vibrational communication, communication network, vibroscape, biotic noise, anthropogenic noise, plant defence mechanism, transcript profiling
Evaluation (rules)
source: COBISS
Researchers (18)
no. Code Name and surname Research area Role Period No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  19116  PhD Špela Baebler  Biotechnology  Researcher  2017 - 2020  313 
2.  06989  PhD Andrej Blejec  Mathematics  Researcher  2017 - 2020  287 
3.  12688  PhD Kristina Gruden  Biotechnology  Researcher  2017 - 2020  985 
4.  28436  PhD Simona Kralj Fišer  Biology  Researcher  2017 - 2020  176 
5.  37409  PhD Maja Križnik  Biotechnology  Junior researcher  2017 - 2020  42 
6.  34501  PhD Anka Kuhelj  Biology  Researcher  2019 - 2020  43 
7.  19326  PhD Matjaž Kuntner  Biology  Researcher  2017 - 2020  500 
8.  33923  PhD Polona Mrak  Natural sciences and mathematics  Researcher  2019 - 2020  97 
9.  29617  PhD Marko Petek  Biotechnology  Researcher  2018 - 2020  168 
10.  31231  PhD Jernej Polajnar  Biology  Researcher  2017 - 2020  138 
11.  34502  PhD Živa Ramšak  Biology  Researcher  2017 - 2019  118 
12.  15129  PhD Tatjana Simčič  Biology  Researcher  2017 - 2020  167 
13.  19430  PhD Nataša Stritih Peljhan  Neurobiology  Researcher  2017 - 2020  102 
14.  07737  PhD Jasna Štrus  Biology  Retired researcher  2017 - 2020  443 
15.  38172  PhD Rok Šturm  Biology  Junior researcher  2017 - 2020  49 
16.  05231  PhD Meta Virant Doberlet  Biology  Head  2017 - 2020  280 
17.  32060  PhD Miloš Vittori  Biology  Researcher  2017 - 2020  137 
18.  16381  PhD Nada Žnidaršič  Biology  Researcher  2017 - 2020  239 
Organisations (3)
no. Code Research organisation City Registration number No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  0105  National Institute of Biology  Ljubljana  5055784  13,278 
2.  0481  University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty  Ljubljana  1626914  66,333 
3.  0618  Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts  Ljubljana  5105498000  62,985 
In the proposed research project, we will use integrative and interdisciplinary approach to study the sources and mechanisms of selection resulting from interactions within the vibrational communication networks that have fundamental implications for the evolution of communication strategies. A crucial aspect of communication that has been long overlooked, is that in nature, all communication occurs in a network environment, i.e. in a group of all animals within signalling and receiving range of each other and not only in the emitter-receiver dyad. Although vibrational communication has been until recently regarded as a rare, exclusively short-range and, in the context of sexual communication, also a private communication channel, it is now considered one of the oldest and most widespread forms of animal communication. Moreover, it has been suggested that this communication channel should be the best model system for examining and predicting the effects of the environment on the function and evolution of signals and communication strategies. However, the biotic landscape of species communicating with vibrational signals and vibrational soundscape (vibroscape) of their habitats are virtually unexplored. Furthermore, the emerging evidence suggests that plants, on which many insects spend their lives, continuously gather information about their environment via a range of sensory modalities, including plant-borne vibrations and respond to relevant cues. The main overall objective of the proposed research project is to provide an essential comprehensive platform that will put vibrational communication into a relevant ecological context. In WP1 ‘Vibroscape ecology’ we will determine the ecological context in which vibrational signalling occurs in the field, in order to obtain relevant information on natural vibrational communities and to characterize the sources of biotic and anthropogenic environmental vibratory noise. In WP2 ‘Communication in noise’ we will describe the strategies for vibrational communication in noisy environment by investigating in more detail the mechanisms underlying communication strategies observed in the field. WP3 ‘Intra- and interspecific interactions’ will integrate research on communication networks that include competitors and spider exploiters in order to reveal the influences of social environment and predators on communication strategies. In WP4 ‘Insect-plant interactions’ we will determine interactions between overlapping conspecific vibrational signals and biotic noise and the way such compound signals are transmitted through the plants. We will also characterize plant’s response to vibrations induced by insect chewing by studying targeted and untargeted gene expression in the plant to provide much needed empirical data for development of alternative approaches to manage insect pests. To explore the interactions within the communication networks, we will study sexual communication systems of the leafhoppers from the genus Aphrodes and the southern green stink bug Nezara viridula, while we will use economically important interaction between the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) and the potato plant (Solanum tuberosum) to study the role of substrate vibrations in triggering plant defence mechanisms. The results of this study will accelerate the progress in the field of biotremology and provide critical new insights into processes that are also central to understanding communication in general. In addition, the results will be an important contribution to the soundscape ecology, as well as to studies unravelling impacts of anthropogenic noise. Moreover, the basic research carried out within this project has high potential for real-world application. Besides scientific excellence, the project also supports the transfer of knowledge and promotion of science.
Significance for science
The importance of substrate-borne vibrational communication slowly started to emerge less than a decade ago. Although vibrations are besides chemicals the oldest mode of communication and also the most widespread form of acoustic communication, signalling by substrate-borne vibrations is probably still the least understood channel of animal communication. While it has been recognized that the selection imposed on the evolution of vibrational signals by the physical properties of the environment (i.e. substrate) is strong, the effects of biotic landscape have long been neglected, primarily because of our fundamental lack of understanding of vibroscape complexity. The proposed research project is a ground breaking study that will accelerate the progress in the field of biotremology. While this field is currently gaining recognition in the broader research community mainly through work on vertebrates, due to their huge diversity and complexity of their communication networks invertebrates provide an ideal system to study interactions shaping the evolution of this communication channel. Within the project we will address some of the main opened questions in the biotremology studies and provide the essential comprehensive platform that will put vibrational communication into a relevant ecological context. Given that together families of our chosen model insects comprise over 27.000 species, detailed studies of the sources of selection on the evolution of vibrational communication systems in these species should reveal mechanisms that are important for our understanding of the evolution of vibrational communication strategies in general. Moreover, it will provide much needed critical insights into processes that also central to understanding communication in general. Outside the field of biotremology, the results of the proposed project will also be an important contribution to soundscape ecology, as well as studies unravelling impacts of anthropogenic noise, since it will significantly widen the current scope of research in these fields. Arthropods are the most abundant and diverse animal group and are crucial elements of all ecosystems and most of them rely on information provided by vibrational channel. Monitoring vibroscape may in the future provide invaluable information about the effects of climate change and anthropogenic noise on community structure. Furthermore, the proposed investigations of insect-plant interactions by molecular approach should reveal new connections between plant-borne vibrations and plant response to herbivores thus providing clues about the not yet entirely understood biochemical mechanisms of plant defence to pest attack. Since the proposed project spans several rapidly growing research fields, its results have a potential to provide new directions, as well as guide research trends in the future. The study is likely to lead to major publications in leading international scientific journals.
Significance for the country
Besides a potential to open new field of research, the proposed study is considerably more than simply a study of fundamental scientific questions. It will provide the much needed empirical data for development of alternative approaches to control insect pests. The current challenge in agriculture is to identify efficient and environmentally acceptable practices for reducing chemical input in the environment. While sustainable management strategies like organic farming and integrated pest management usually rely on chemical signals (pheromones) to disrupt mating behaviour, mate recognition and localization are mediated by vibrational signals in numerous insect pests. Mating disruption by playback of vibrational signals is a completely novel approach that should be considered in future efforts to find alternative control strategies for such pests. Our research has already shown that highly effective mating disruption by playback of disruptive vibrational signals can also be achieved in the field; however, our understanding of underlying behavioural and ecological processes is incomplete. The hypothesis that plant defence mechanisms could be elicited by vibrations emitted by herbivore feeding is highly interesting from applied perspective as well. If proven effective, the phenomenon could be exploited by playback of a relevant stimulus in the field, thus »priming« the crop before the actual pest attack and ensuring more rapid and stronger response that is detrimental to pests. If that can be shown in potato plants, we will test the efficiency of leaf chewing playback also in tomato, potato’s closest crop relative, for which the vibrational treatments would more easily be adopted on the field. Therefore, the basic research outlined in this proposal has high potential for real-world application. Importantly, the project team members have already proved that they are able to transfer basic scientific knowledge into application. In addition, similar to soundscape approach, more routine monitoring of vibroscape may in the future be used for biodiversity and habitat assessment, as well as for proposing conservation measures.
Most important scientific results Final report
Most important socioeconomically and culturally relevant results Final report
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