Infochemicals structure marine, terrestrial and freshwater food webs: Implications for ecological informatics

M. Vos, L.E.M. Vet, F.L. Wackers, J.J. Middelburg, W.H. van der Putten, W.M. Mooij, C.H.R. Heip, E. van Donk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


Here we consider how information transfer shapes interactions in aquatic and terrestrial food webs. All organisms, whether they are dead or alive, release certain chemicals into their environment. These can be used as infochemicals by any other individual in the food web that has the biological machinery to sense and process such information. Such machinery has evolved in bacteria, plants and animals and has thus become an inextricable part of the mechanisms that underlie feeding relations in food webs. Organisms live in environments suffused with infochemicals and this information network can be tapped into by both predators and their prey. However, it also opens doors to confusion in the face of a bewildering abundance and complexity of information. Infochemical mixing, masking, crypsis and mimicry could cause such confusion, especially in species-rich communities. We provide a point of entry into this field of enquiry by identifying seminal papers and major reviews and by discussing research lines that might enhance our mechanistic understanding of interactions in food webs. We highlight empirical work on the ways in which individuals use infochemicals and discuss model results on how this mediates patterns of population dynamics. We consider implications for ecosystem management and indicate how classical models and novel approaches from ecological informatics may contribute to linking the levels of individuals, populations and communities and their interactions with abiotic structuring forces in ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-32
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Informatics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • antarctic procellariiform seabirds
  • dimethyl sulfide
  • inducible defenses
  • population-dynamics
  • tritrophic system
  • foraging success
  • cotesia-rubecula
  • parasitic wasps
  • plant volatiles
  • natural enemies


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