Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 39, Issue 6, pp 687–711 | Cite as

Chemical Ecology of Marine Angiosperms: Opportunities at the Interface of Marine and Terrestrial Systems

  • R. Drew Sieg
  • Julia Kubanek
Review Article


This review examines the state of the field for chemically mediated interactions involving marine angiosperms (seagrasses, mangroves, and salt marsh angiosperms). Small-scale interactions among these plants and their herbivores, pathogens, fouling organisms, and competitors are explored, as are community-level effects of plant secondary metabolites. At larger spatial scales, secondary metabolites from marine angiosperms function as reliable cues for larval settlement, molting, or habitat selection by fish and invertebrates, and can influence community structure and ecosystem function. Several recent studies illustrate the importance of chemical defenses from these plants that deter feeding by herbivores and infection by pathogens, but the extent to which allelopathic compounds kill or inhibit the growth of competitors is less clear. While some phenolic compounds such as ferulic acid and caffeic acid act as critical defenses against herbivores and pathogens, we find that a high total concentration of phenolic compounds within bulk plant tissues is not a strong predictor of defense. Residual chemical defenses prevent shredding or degradation of plant detritus by detritivores and microbes, delaying the time before plant matter can enter the microbial loop. Mangroves, marsh plants, and seagrasses remain plentiful sources of new natural products, but ecological functions are known for only a small proportion of these compounds. As new analytical techniques are incorporated into ecological studies, opportunities are emerging for chemical ecologists to test how subtle environmental cues affect the production and release of marine angiosperm chemical defenses or signaling molecules. Throughout this review, we point to areas for future study, highlighting opportunities for new directions in chemical ecology that will advance our understanding of ecological interactions in these valuable ecosystems.


Salt marsh Mangrove Seagrass Defense Herbivory Allelopathy 



The authors thank Kelsey Poulson-Ellestad, Melanie Heckman, and two anonymous reviewers for suggestions that improved the manuscript. NSF grants OCE-1060300 and NSF REU Site Award OCE-0851606, as well as a US Department of Education GAANN fellowship awarded to RDS, has supported our recent research in marine chemical ecology.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biology and Aquatic Chemical Ecology CenterGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.School of Chemistry and BiochemistryGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA

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