The Importance of Volatile Organic Compounds in Ecosystem Functioning
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In nature, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) abound in air, soil and water, and their use as chemical signals by a large number and broad array of organisms has been well-documented. They have been extracted and distilled from plants and other sources for thousands of years for use in perfumes, but they were considered secondary metabolites, suggesting that they are only by-products of primary metabolism and not essential to the functioning of organisms that produced them. In fact, VOCs are extremely important and critical in mediating intra and interspecific interactions among all organisms in the ecosystem. Since biologically active VOCs often occur in nature in only microgram or smaller quantities, their purification and identification was long hampered by lack of efficient and sensitive analytical methods. Thus, although it has long been known that animals use odors for sexual communication and for location of prey, the first identification of a VOC as a signal that transmitted...