Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 31-49

First online:

From Chemical to Population Ecology: Infochemical Use in an Evolutionary Context

  • Louise E. M. VetAffiliated withLaboratory of Entomology, Wageningen Agricultural University

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The marriage of chemistry with ecology has been a productive one, providing a wealth of examples of how chemicals play important roles in the loves and lives of living organisms. At first the marriage may have been a simple and monogamous one with the major scientific aim of making proximate analyses of chemically mediated, individual level interactions. But times have changed and chemical ecology is broadening, embracing different approaches and disciplines. There is, for example, increasing appreciation of variability in the systems under study and an increase in evolutionary thinking. Another promising development is greater recognition of the potential importance of chemically mediated interactions for population dynamics and for structuring communities and species coexistence. The latter is an utterly underexplored area in chemical ecology. The field of chemical ecology of insect parasitoids shows some of these promising developments. Responses of parasitoids to infochemicals are increasingly studied with an integrated approach of mechanism and function. This integration of “how” and “why” questions significantly enhances the evolutionary and ecological understanding of stimulus–response patterns. The future challenge in chemical ecology is to demonstrate how chemically mediated interactions steer ecological and evolutionary processes at all levels of ecological organization. To reach this goal there is a need for interdisciplinary collaboration among chemists and ecologists working at different levels of organization and with different approaches, with other disciplines as partners.

Chemical ecology evolution variation population dynamics community species interactions infochemical semiochemical parasitoid foraging behavior learning phenotypic plasticity