Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 465–480 | Cite as

A Pharm-Ecological Perspective of Terrestrial and Aquatic Plant-Herbivore Interactions

  • Jennifer Sorensen Forbey
  • M. Denise Dearing
  • Elisabeth M. Gross
  • Colin M. Orians
  • Erik E. Sotka
  • William J. Foley
Review Article


We describe some recent themes in the nutritional and chemical ecology of herbivores and the importance of a broad pharmacological view of plant nutrients and chemical defenses that we integrate as “Pharm-ecology”. The central role that dose, concentration, and response to plant components (nutrients and secondary metabolites) play in herbivore foraging behavior argues for broader application of approaches derived from pharmacology to both terrestrial and aquatic plant-herbivore systems. We describe how concepts of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics are used to better understand the foraging phenotype of herbivores relative to nutrient and secondary metabolites in food. Implementing these concepts into the field remains a challenge, but new modeling approaches that emphasize tradeoffs and the properties of individual animals show promise. Throughout, we highlight similarities and differences between the historic and future applications of pharm-ecological concepts in understanding the ecology and evolution of terrestrial and aquatic interactions between herbivores and plants. We offer several pharm-ecology related questions and hypotheses that could strengthen our understanding of the nutritional and chemical factors that modulate foraging behavior of herbivores across terrestrial and aquatic systems.


Aquatic Herbivore Nutrient Pharmacology Plant secondary metabolite Terrestrial NIRS Foraging 



We thank Randi Rotjan and Joshua Idjadi and four anonymous reviewers for comments that improved the manuscript and Kathy Smith for assistance with formatting the manuscript. We thank the National Science Foundation (0827239 to JSF) for funding the Pharm-Ecology Symposium at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology 2010 that stimulated many of the ideas in this manuscript. We also thank National Science Foundation Grant IOS-0817527 and DEB-1146194 to MDD and JSF, respectively, the Australian Research Council Discovery Grant DP0986142 to WJF, the German Science Foundation DFG, CRC454 project A2 to EMG, and the National Research Initiative of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture 2007-35302-18351 to CMO.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer Sorensen Forbey
    • 1
  • M. Denise Dearing
    • 2
  • Elisabeth M. Gross
    • 3
  • Colin M. Orians
    • 4
  • Erik E. Sotka
    • 5
  • William J. Foley
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesBoise State UniversityBoiseUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  3. 3.Université de Lorraine, Laboratoire Interdiciplinaire Environnements Continentaux (LIEC) CNRS UMR 7360MetzFrance
  4. 4.Department of BiologyTufts UniversityMedfordUSA
  5. 5.Department of BiologyCollege of CharlestonCharlestonUSA
  6. 6.Research School of BiologyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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