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Summary. The interdisciplinary field of marine chemical ecology is an expanding and dynamic science. It is no surprise that the breadth of marine organisms.
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Chemical ecology in plants mainly involves plants fighting herbivory by producing various phytochemical compounds. These compounds can be produced by the plants themselves, or as a part of various symbiotic relationships fungi and bacteria. The surface of the primary aerial parts of terrestrial plants is covered by a thin waxy structure known as the cuticle. The cuticle has crucial autecological functions and plays an important role as an interface in trophic interactions.

The cuticle is composed of the cuticular layer and the cuticle proper, which is covered by epicuticular waxes. Whereas the cutin fraction is a polyester-type biopolymer composed of hydroxyl and hydroxy epoxy fatty acids, the cuticular waxes are a complex mixture of long-chain aliphatic and cyclic compounds. These highly lipophilic compounds determine the hydrophobic quality of the plant surface and together with the microstructure of the waxes, vary in a species-specific manner.

The physiochemical characteristics contribute to certain optical features, limit transpiration and influence adhesion of particles and organisms, and as a result prevents it from undergoing wilting. Apart from that the cuticle acts like a skin for plants which prevents any mechanical damage to them from the external sources which either living organisms or any other abiotic component.


In many cases, the chemical ecology of plants involves mutualistic interactions with other organisms. One of these involves interactions with fungi, and in particular, mycorrhizae - where fungi form a sheath on the outside of the roots, or penetrate the roots growing between root cells, and even pushing through cell walls of individual root cells.

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In this relationship, fungi produce chemicals that decompose organic matter in the soil around the root, absorb the inorganic nutrients released by this decomposition thanks to much larger surface area of the fungi threads, compared to the absorbing surface of the root, and pass some of the water and nutrient the plant, thus greatly enhancing the ability of the plant roots to extract nutrients and water from the soil. The fungi may also provide a chemical protection antibiotics against harmful bacteria and fungi in the soil.

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Plants interact also with micro-organisms. For this to become possible the microbes have to establish an interface between them and the plant, by growing into the plant through its surface. To do this, the micro-organisms secrete special fluids which break down the fats from the cuticle. Most of the hormones in plants are concentrated on their tips. The auxin hormones are responsible for growth of plants and are stimulated by certain stimulus such as light.

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  • This phenomenon is called phototropism , which is the movement towards or away from a light source. This growth enables the plant to obtain essentials such as sunlight which is very necessary for the photosynthesis. Therefore, the cuticle is one of the fundamental parts of the plant due to its physical and chemical properties such as waxy and thin like structure that enables it to be adapted to various mechanism such as hydrophobicity , interactions with microorganisms and growth of plants.

    The chemical ecology of plant-insect interaction is a significant subfield of chemical ecology. As plants develop chemical defences to herbivory, insects which feed on them evolve immunity to these poisons, and in some cases, re-purpose these poisons for their own chemical defence against predators. One of the more well-known examples of this is the monarch butterfly , the caterpillars of which feed on the milkweed plant.

    Milkweeds contain cardenolide toxins, but monarch butterfly caterpillars have evolved to remain unaffected by the toxin. Instead, they sequester the toxins during their larval stage and the poison remains in the adult, making it unpalatable to predators. Many other such examples of this exist, including Manduca sexta tobacco hawk moth caterpillars which actively sequester nicotine found in the tobacco plant ; [9] and the bella moth , which secrets a quinone -containing froth from its head when disturbed by a potential predator obtained from feeding on Crotalaria species as a caterpillar.

    Marine chemical ecology is how organic life in the marine environment use chemicals to eat, interact, reproduce and survive, ranging from microscopic phytoplankton to the many species of crustaceans, sponges, coral and fish.

    Marine Chemical Ecology: A Science Born of Scuba

    The use of chemicals are often used a means of survival for marine organisms. Some crustaceans and mesograzers , such as the Pseudamphithoides incurvaria , use particular algae and seaweeds as a means of deterrence by covering their bodies in the these plants. These plants produce alcohols such as pachydictyol-A and dictyol-E, which prevent the predation of the crustacean. When this seaweed is absent or another seaweed without these alcohols are worn, the rate at which these crustaceans are eaten is much higher.

    Other crustaceans use their natural defences in conjuncture with produced chemicals to defend themselves. Chemicals within their urine help coordinate them into groups. This combined with their spikes make them a much harder target for predators. Simply being a certain colour can serve as a defence mechanism, such as some zoanthids displaying a wide range of colours.

    Antarctic marine chemical ecology: what is next?

    This suggests that they may be toxic to eat, whether they are or not. The release of chemicals are very important to coordinate marine organisms to reproduce. Metabolomics facilitate comparisons of sponge compounds produced within and among taxa, and metagenomics and metatranscriptomics provide tools to understand the biology of host—microbe associations and the biosynthesis of ecologically relevant natural products. These combinations of ecological, microbiological, metabolomic and genomics tools, and techniques provide unprecedented opportunities to advance sponge biology and chemical ecology across many marine ecosystems.

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    Marine chemical ecology: what's known and what's next?

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      Permissions Icon Permissions. Abstract The chemical ecology and chemical defenses of sponges have been investigated for decades; consequently, sponges are among the best understood marine organisms in terms of their chemical ecology, from the level of molecules to ecosystems. Issue Section:. You do not currently have access to this article.