, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 191-225
Date: 23 Jun 2011

Ecological metabolomics: overview of current developments and future challenges

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Ecometabolomics, which aims to analyze the metabolome, the total number of metabolites and its shifts in response to environmental changes, is gaining importance in ecological studies because of the increasing use of new technical advances, such as modern HNMR spectrometers and GC-MS coupled to bioinformatic advances. We review here the state of the art and the perspectives of ecometabolomics. The studies available demonstrate ecometabolomic techniques have great sensitivity in detecting the phenotypic mechanisms and key molecules underlying organism responses to abiotic environmental changes to biotic interactions. But such studies are still scarce, and in most cases they are limited to the direct effects of a single abiotic factor or of biotic interactions between two trophic levels under controlled conditions. Several exciting challenges remain to be achieved through the use of ecometabolomics in field conditions, involving more than two trophic levels, or combining the effects of abiotic gradients with intra- and inter-specific relationships. The coupling of ecometabolomic studies with genomics, transcriptomics, ecosystem stoichiometry, community biology and biogeochemistry may provide a further step forward in many areas of ecological sciences, including stress responses, species lifestyle, life history variation, population structure, trophic interaction, nutrient cycling, ecological niche and global change.