The role of carotenoids and their derivatives in mediating interactions between insects and their environment
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Carotenoids are long conjugated isoprenoid molecules derived mainly from plants and microbial organisms. They are highly diverse, with over 700 identified structures, and are widespread in nature. In addition to their fundamental roles as light-harvesting molecules in photosynthesis, carotenoids serve a variety of functions including visual and colouring pigments, antioxidants and hormone precursors. Although the functions of carotenoids are relatively well studied in plants and vertebrates, studies are severely lacking in insect systems. There is a particular dearth of knowledge on how carotenoids move among trophic levels, influence insect multitrophic interactions and affect evolutionary outcomes. This review explores the known and potential roles that carotenoids and their derivatives have in mediating the ecological interaction of insects with their environment. Throughout the review, we highlight how the fundamental roles of carotenoids in insect physiology might be linked to ecological and evolutionary processes.