Waterborne Chemical Communication: Stimulus Dispersal Dynamics and Orientation Strategies in Crustaceans

  • Marc J. Weissburg


Many animals obtain information about conspecifics or heterospecifics that is transmitted in waterborne chemical plumes or trails. The ability to use chemicals for distance communication minimally requires that the receiver of a chemical signal be able to detect and identify the chemical constituents. Since animals often use plumes or trails to find conspecifics, they frequently must also be able to extract directional and distance information from odor plumes and trails. As odor plumes are strongly affected by flow dynamics, whether animals can even detect chemical signals, or use them to navigate towards a source, are strongly contingent on the fluid physical environment. Here I review basic information on how to quantify the relevant fluid physical aspects of the environment, and discuss major findings concerning the relationship between odor-guided navigation, odor plume structure, and the fluid dynamic environment. A major result is that greater flow or more properly, fluid mixing, diminishes the ability of crustaceans to extract the information required for efficient navigation. Despite this straightforward conclusion, the consequences of turbulent mixing for chemical communication are not as easy to predict for several reasons. First, animal size and mobility are an important factor in how animals respond to changes in odor plume structure. Thus, the consequences of increased turbulence depend on the interaction between animal size and scale, and scales of spatial and temporal variation in odor signal structure; not all animals will be affected equally by turbulent mixing. Second, increased flow or mixing will cause plumes to be dispersed more widely, potentially increasing the active space of the signal if concentrations remain high enough to be detected. Finally, chemical signaling often may involve reciprocal information transfer, where a given animal acts as both a sender and a receiver. Differences in the perceptive abilities of animals may make it difficult to predict how fluid mixing affects this process. Given that much of what we know about the mechanisms and ecological consequences of waterborne chemical communication has been derived from examining predator–prey interactions, there is considerable potential for similar investigations in systems where social communication is mediated by the transmission of chemicals via flow.


Blue Crab Chemical Communication Odor Source Odor Concentration Odor Signal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Atema J, Fay RR, Popper AN, Tavolga WN (1988). Sensory Biology of Aquatic Animals, pp. 945. New York/Berlin/Heidelberg/London/Paris/Tokyo: Springer-VerlagPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Baker CF, Montgomery JC, Dennis TE (2002) The sensory basis of olfactory search behavior in the banded kokopu (Galaxias fasciatus). J Comp Physiol A 188:533–560CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Breithaupt T, Eger P (2002) Urine makes the difference: chemical communication in fighting crayfish made visible. J Exp Biol 205:1221–1231PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Conner WE, Eisner T, Vander Meer RK, Guerrero A, Meinwald J (1980) Sex attractant of an arctiid moth (Utetheisa ornatrix): a pulsed chemical signal. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 7:55–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Devine DV, Atema J (1982) Function of chemoreceptor organs in spatial orientation of the lobster, Homarus americanus: differences and overlap. Biol Bull 163:144–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dickman BD, Webster DR, Page JL, Weissburg MJ (2009) Three-dimensional odorant concentration measurements around actively tracking blue crabs. Limnol Oceanogr Meth 7:96–108Google Scholar
  7. Doall MH, Colin SP, Strickler JR, Yen J (1998) Locating a mate in 3D: the case of Temora longicornis. Phil Trans Roy Soc B 353:681–689CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dusenbery D (1989) Calculated effect of pulsated pheromone release on range of attraction. J Chem Ecol 15:971–977CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dusenbery DB (1992) Sensory ecology: how organisms acquire and respond to information. W.H. Freeman and Co., New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Elkinton JS, Carde RT, Mason CJ (1984) Evaluation of time-average dispersion models for estimating pheromone concentration in a deciduous forest. J Chem Ecol 10:1081–1108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ferner MC, Weissburg MJ (2005) Slow-moving predatory gastropods track prey odors in fast and turbulent flow. J Exp Biol 208:809–819CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Finelli CM, Pentcheff ND, Zimmer RK, Wethey DS (2000) Physical constraints on ecological processes: a field test of odor-mediated foraging. Ecology 81:784–797CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gleeson RA, Adams MA (1984) Characterization of a sex pheromone in the blue crab Callinectes sapidus: crustecdysone studies. J Chem Ecol 10:913–921CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gomez G, Atema J (1994) Frequency filter properties of lobster chemoreceptor cells determined with high-resolution stimulus measurement. J Comp Physiol A 174:803–811CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Horner AJ, Nickles SP, Weissburg MJ, Derby CD (2006) Source and specificity of chemical cues mediating shelter preference of Caribbean spiny lobsters (Panulirus argus). Biol Bull 211:128–139CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Jackson JL, Webster DR, Rahman S, Weissburg MJ (2007) Bed roughness effects on boundary-layer turbulence and consequences for odor tracking behavior of blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus). Limnol Oceangr 52:1883–1897CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kamio M, Reidenbach MA, Derby CD (2008) To paddle or not: context dependent courtship display by male blue crabs, Callinectes sapidus. J Exp Biol 211:1243–1248CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Keller TA, Weissburg MJ (2004) Effects of odor flux and pulse rate on chemosensory tracking in turbulent odor plumes by the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus. Biol Bull 207:44–55CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Keller TA, Tomba AM, Moore PA (2001) Orientation in complex chemical landscapes: spatial arrangement of odor sources influences crayfish food finding efficiency in artificial streams. Limnol Oceangr 46:238–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Koehl MAR (2006) The fluid mechanics of arthropod sniffing in turbulent odor plumes. J Chem Ecol 31:93–105Google Scholar
  21. Krång SA, Baden SP (2004) The ability of the amphipod Corophium volutator (Pallas) to follow chemical signals from con-specifics. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 310:195–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lightbody A, Nepf HM (2006) Prediction of velocity profiles and longitudinal dispersion in emergent salt marsh vegetation. Limnol Oceangr 51:218–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mead KS, Wiley MB, Koehl MAR, Koseff JR (2003) Fine-scale patterns of odor encounter by the antenule of the mantis shrimp tracking turbulent plumes in wave-affected and unidirectional flow. J Exp Biol 206:181–193CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Moore PA, Grills JL (1999) Chemical orientation to food by the crayfish, Orconectes rusticus, influence by hydrodynamics. Anim Behav 58:953–963CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Murlis J, Jones CD (1981) Fine-scale structure of odour plumes in relation to insect orientation to distant pheromone and other attractant sources. Physiol Entomol 6:71–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Murlis J, Elkinton JS, Cardé RT (1992) Odor plumes and how insects use them. Ann Rev Entomol 37:505–532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pyke GL (1984) Optimal foraging theory: a critical review. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 15:523–575CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rahman S, Webster DR (2005) The effect of bed roughness on scalar fluctuations in turbulent boundary layers. Exp Fluids 38:372–384CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ratchford SG, Eggleston DB (1998) Size- and scale-dependent chemical attraction contribute to an ontogenetic shift in sociality. Anim Behav 56:1027–1034Google Scholar
  30. Ratchford SG, Eggleston DB (2000) Temporal shift in the presence of a chemical cue contributes to a diel shift in sociality. Anim Behav 59:793–799CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Reeder PB, Ache BW (1980) Chemotaxis in the Florida spiny lobster, Panulirus argus. Anim Behav 28:831–839CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Schlichting H (1987) Boundary layer theory. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  33. Smee DL, Weissburg MJ (2006) Clamming up: environmental forces diminish the perceptive ability of bivalve prey. Ecology 87:1587–1598CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Smee DL, Ferner M, Weissburg MJ (2008) Environmental conditions alter prey reactions to risk and the scales of nonlethal predator effects in natural systems. Oecologia 156:399–409CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Smee DL, Ferner M, Weissburg MJ (2010) Hydrodynamic sensory stressors produce nonlinear predation patterns. Ecology 91:1391–1400CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Vickers NJ (2000) Mechanisms of animal navigation in odor plumes. Biol Bull 198:203–212CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Webster DR, Weissburg MJ (2001) Chemosensory guidance cues in a turbulent odor plume. Limnol Oceangr 46:1048–1053CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Webster DR, Weissburg MJ (2009) The hydrodynamics of chemical cues among aquatic organisms. Ann Rev Fluid Mech 41:73–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Webster DR, Rahman S, Dasi LP (2001) On the usefulness of bilateral comparison to tracking turbulent chemical odor plumes. Limnol Oceangr 46:1048–1053CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Weissburg MJ (2000) The fluid dynamical context of chemosensory behavior. Biol Bull 198:188–202CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Weissburg MJ, Zimmer-Faust RK (1993) Life and death in moving fluids: hydrodynamic effects on chemosensory-mediated predation. Ecology 74:1428–1443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Weissburg MJ, Zimmer-Faust RK (1994) Odor plumes and how blue crabs use them to find prey. J Exp Biol 197:349–375PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Weissburg MJ, Dusenbery DB, Ishida H, Janata J, Keller T, Roberts PJW, Webster DR (2002) A multidisciplinary study of spatial and temporal scales containing information in turbulent chemical plume tracking. J Environ Fluid Mech I2:65–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Weissburg MJ, James CP, Webster DR (2003) Fluid mechanics produces conflicting constraints during olfactory navigation in blue crabs, Callinectes sapidus. J Exp Biol 206:171–180CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Yen J, Weissburg MJ, Doall MH (1998) The fluid physics of signal perception by mate tracking copepods. Phil Trans Roy Soc B 353:787–804CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Zimmer-Faust RK, Finelli CM, Pentcheff ND, Wethey DS (1995) Odor plumes and animal navigation in turbulent water flow. A field study. Biol Bull 188:111–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of BiologyGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations