Plants produce a wide spectrum of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) in various tissues above and below ground to communicate with other plants and organisms. However, BVOCs also have various functions in biotic and abiotic stresses. For example abiotic stresses enhance BVOCs emission rates and patterns, altering the communication with other organisms and the photochemical cycles. Recent new insights on biosynthesis and eco-physiological control of constitutive or induced BVOCs have led to formulation of hypotheses on their functions which are presented in this review. Specifically, oxidative and thermal stresses are relieved in the presence of volatile terpenes. Terpenes, C6 compounds, and methyl salicylate are thought to promote direct and indirect defence by modulating the signalling that biochemically activate defence pathways. Copyright 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.