Chemical Ecology and Marine Biodiversity: Insights and Products from the Sea

  • Hay M
  • Fenical W
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Abstract

In this review, I summarize recent developments in marine chemical ecology and suggest additional studies that should be especially productive. Direct tests in both the field and laboratory show that secondary metabolites commonly function as defenses against consumers. However, some metabolites also diminish fouling, inhibit competitors or microbial pathogens, and serve as gamete attractants; these alternative functions are less thoroughly investigated. We know little about how consumers perceive secondary metabolites or how ecologically realistic doses of defensive metabolites affect consumer physiology or fitness, as opposed to feeding behavior. Secondary metabolites have direct consequences, but they do not act in isolation from other prey characteristics or from the physical and biological environment in which organisms interact with their natural enemies. This mandates that marine chemical ecology be better integrated into a broader and more complex framework that includes aspects of physiological, population, community, and even ecosystem ecology. Recent advances in this area involve assessing how chemically mediated interactions are affected by physical factors such as flow, desiccation, UV radiation, and nutrient availability, or by biological forces such as the palatability or defenses of neighbors, fouling organisms, or microbial symbionts. Chemical defenses can vary dramatically among geographic regions, habitats, individuals within a local habitat, and within different portions of the same individual. Factors affecting this variance are poorly known, but include physical stresses and induction due to previous attack. Studies are needed to assess which consumers induce prey defenses, how responses vary in environments with differing physical characteristics, and whether the `induced' responses are a direct response to consumer attack or are a defense against microbial pathogens invading via feeding wounds. Although relatively unstudied, ontogenetic shifts in concentrations and types of defenses occur in marine species, and patterns of larval chemical defenses appear to provide insights into the evolution of complex life cycles and of differing modes of development among marine invertebrates. The chemical ecology of marine microbes is vastly underappreciated even though microbes produce metabolites that can have devastating indirect effects on non-target organisms (e.g., red tide related fish kills) and significantly affect entire ecosystems. The natural functions of these metabolites are poorly understood, but they appear to deter both consumers and other microbes. Additionally, marine macro-organisms use metabolites from microbial symbionts to deter consumers, subdue prey, and defend their embryos from pathogens. Microbial chemical ecology offers unlimited possibilities for investigators that develop rigorous and more ecologically relevant approaches.

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Authors

  • Mark Hay

  • William Fenical

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