, Volume 491, Issue 1–3, pp 221–239 | Cite as

Chemically induced anti-predator defences in plankton: a review

  • Sandra Lass
  • Piet Spaak


Planktonic organisms exhibit diverse morphological, behavioural and life-history responses to the chemical presence of potential predators. Prey organisms have been found to sense such predators via predator-derived kairomones. The induced reactions are assumed to reduce predation risk and thus to be adaptive. Numerous studies have investigated various aspects of inducible defences in different crustaceans, in rotifers, planktonic ciliates and algae. As a first step, we summarise recent work on chemically induced anti-predator defences in morphology, life history and behaviour. Morphological defences have been found in a wide range of different plankton organisms and recent studies on predator-induced morphologies mainly addressed the question of costs for these changes. Life-history responses were mainly studied in cladocerans and several studies have recently addressed some novel topics, such as diapause induction and the influence of predator kairomones on hatching of resting stages. Behavioural anti-predator defences also have been found for several plankton species and are characterised by relatively fast induction times. We further identified four research directions in which substantial progress has been made recently: (I) The effects of simultaneous exposure to infochemicals from different predators and the consequences of a complex chemical environment. Some environmental contaminants, such as synthetic chemicals or heavy metals, have been found to potentially disturb natural chemical communication in aquatic predator-prey systems. (II) The influence of genetic variation on the reaction to infochemicals and its implications. Clonal differences have not only been found for the presence or absence of a certain trait but also with respect to the type of response. (III) The degree to which different types of responses to a specific kairomone are coupled. Recent studies underline the uncoupling of different anti-predator responses of which some have been considered to be coupled. (IV) Studies on the chemical properties and on the metabolic origin of predator kairomones. Substantial progress has been made recently, especially with respect to the identification of predator kairomones that are important for planktonic ciliates. The identification and isolation of kairomones are an important step towards studies addressing the consequences of predator-induced defences on the level of populations, communities and ecosystems. So far most studies have considered effects and consequences on the level of individual prey organisms and studies taking the consequences at higher ecological levels into account are rare.

inducible defence Daphnia ciliate rotifer algae kairomone adaptation cost identification 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandra Lass
    • 1
  • Piet Spaak
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Limnology, EAWAG/ETHDübendorfSwitzerland

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