Chemical Ecology

Abstract

Chemical ecology is the study of the structure, origin and function of naturally occurring chemicals that mediate intraspecific or interspecific interactions. These chemicals are known as semiochemicals. Depending on the function of a semiochemical, this group of chemicals can be further divided into three classes: pheromones, kairomones and allomones. At the heart of the discipline are modern analytical instrumentation, careful observational biology and good bioassay design. Research during the past 50 years has identified many different semiochemicals. Several of these chemicals are currently in use as pest control agents. Although the majority of the early research focused on (lepidopteran) sex pheromones, in recent years, a shift is seen into semiochemicals from other insects and noninsects such as mammals, marine animals or even microorganisms. The field of chemical ecology has developed into a mature science with diverse practical applications, of which currently pest control is the most important.

Key Concepts

  • Chemical ecology studies the structure, origin and function of naturally occurring chemicals that mediate intraspecific or interspecific interactions.
  • Bioassays are crucial in successfully identifying active semiochemicals.
  • Semiochemicals are divided into different categories, depending on their function in an organism.
  • Chemical ecology has developed into a mature global science during the past 50 years.
  • Chemical ecology has benefited greatly from the advances in analytical instrumentation, such as mass spectrometry, gas chromatography and liquid chromatography.
  • Chemical ecology has a much wider application than only its use in pest control.
  • Chemical ecology is characterised by highly cross‐disciplinary research.

Keywords: semiochemicals; behaviour; pheromone; allelochemicals; bioassay; chemical analysis; chemical synthesis; mass spectrometry; gas chromatography; liquid chromatography

Figure 1. Categories of semiochemicals, with examples of their biological function (Howse, ).
Figure 2. The diversity of the semiochemical geranial.
Figure 3. Sex pheromone component of the oriental fruit moth.
Figure 4. (a) The predatory wasp, Vespula germanica(image courtesy of Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org), uses the male‐produced pheromone in the (b) Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata). Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Figure 5. An example of a tritrophic interaction: a parasitic wasp (b) is attracted to maize plants (a) on which its prey, beet armyworm (c) has been feeding. (a) Reproduced courtesy of Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. (b) Courtesy of Merle Shepard, Gerald R. Carner, and P.A.C Ooi. (c) Courtesy of Glen Rains, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Figure 6. Diagram illustrating the dynamic plant–animal interactions (Harborne, ).
Figure 7. Flow chart of procedure for isolation and identification of pheromones (Stevens, ).
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References

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Further Reading

Blomquist GJ and Bagneres A‐G (eds) (2010) Insect Hydrocarbons. Biology, Biochemistry and Chemical Ecology. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Cardé RT and Bell WJ (eds) (1995) Chemical Ecology of Insects 2. London: Chapman & Hall.

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Dicke M and Takke W (eds) (2006) Chemical Ecology, from Gene to Ecosystem. The Netherlands: Springer.

Eisner T and Meinwald J (eds) (1995) Chemical Ecology, the Chemistry of Biotic Interaction. Washington, DC: National Academies of Science.

Haynes KF and Millar JG (eds) (1998) Methods in chemical ecology. In: Chemical Methods, vol. 1. London: Chapman & Hall.

Haynes KF and Millar JG (eds) (1998) Methods in chemical ecology. In: Bioassay Methods, vol. 2. London: Chapman & Hall.

Howe HF and Westley LC (1988) Ecological Relationships of Plants and Animals. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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Wilson ID (ed) (2000) Encyclopaedia of Separation Science, vol. 1–10. San Diego: Academic Press.

Wyatt TD (2003) Pheromones and Animal Behaviour. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Drijfhout, Falko(Aug 2017) Chemical Ecology. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003265.pub3]