Root volatile profiles and herbivore preference are mediated by maize domestication, geographic spread, and modern breeding.
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Domestication affected the abundances and diversity of maize root volatiles more than northward spread and modern breeding, and herbivore preference for roots was correlated with volatile diversity and herbivore resistance. Studies show that herbivore defenses in crops are mediated by domestication, spread, and breeding, among other human-driven processes. They also show that those processes affected chemical communication between crop plants and herbivores. We hypothesized that (i) preference of the herbivore (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera) larvae for embryonic roots of maize (Zea mays mays) would increase and (ii) root volatile diversity would decrease with the crop's domestication, northward spread to present-day USA, and modern breeding. We used Balsas teosinte (Zea mays parviglumis), Mexican and USA landrace maizes, and US inbred maize lines to test these hypotheses. We found that herbivore preference and volatile diversity increased with maize domestication and northward spread but decreased with modern breeding. Additionally, we found that the abundances of single volatiles did not consistently increase or decrease with maize domestication, spread, and breeding; rather, volatiles grouped per their abundances were differentially affected by those processes, and domestication had the greatest effects. Altogether, our results suggested that: the herbivore's preference for maize roots is correlated with volatile diversity and herbivore resistance; changes in abundances of individual volatiles are evident at the level of volatile groups; and maize domestication, but not spread and breeding, affected the abundances of some green leaf volatiles and sesquiterpenes/sesquiterpenoids. In part, we discussed our results in the context of herbivore defense evolution when resources for plant growth and defense vary across environments. We suggested that variability in relative abundance of volatiles may be associated with their local, functional relevance across wild and agricultural environments.