Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 109–115 | Cite as

Quinolizidine and Pyrrolizidine Alkaloid Chemical Ecology – a Mini-Review on Their Similarities and Differences

  • Michael WinkEmail author
Review Article


This mini-review summarizes over 40 years of research on quinolizidine (QAs) and pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). Emphasis is on the chemical ecology of both groups of alkaloids, which serve as general defense compounds against herbivores for the plants producing them. For QAs and PAs, a number of insects (aphids, moths, beetles) have acquired tolerance. These specialists store the alkaloids and use them as defense chemicals against predators. In some PA sequestering moths, the adaptation is even more intricate and advanced. PAs can function as a morphogen to induce the formation of male coremata, inflatable organs that dissipate pheromones. In these insects, PAs are additionally used as a precursor for male pheromones. Female moths utilize their own PAs and those obtained from males via the spermatophore as nuptial gift, to transfer them to the eggs that thus become chemically protected. Novel genomic technologies will allow deeper insights in the molecular evolution of these two classes of alkaloids in plant-insect interactions.


Quinolizidine alkaloids Pyrrolizidine alkaloids Chemical ecology Lupins Insect herivores Plant-herbivore interactions 



Thomas Hartmann was my PhD supervisor at the Technical University of Braunschweig between 1977 and 1980. From 1980 to 1985 he was a mentor for my Post-Doc studies leading to my habilitation in 1985. I am always thankful to Thomas Hartmann that he had lured me away from zoology into botany and pharmaceutical biology for my PhD studies. What both of us did not know at that time, was that we would develop a serious interest in chemical ecology and the functional aspects of plant alkaloids and various trophic levels. After 40 years of endeavour, I am happy to say that this deviation was worth it.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Heidelberg University, Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular BiotechnologyHeidelbergGermany

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