The Roles of Plant Secondary Chemicals in Wet Tropical Ecosystems

  • Jean H. Langenheim
Part of the Tasks for vegetation Science book series (TAVS, volume 12)

Abstract

Structurally diverse so called “secondary compounds” probably play a multiplicity of roles in the survival of plants within ecosystems. The occurrence, diversity and concentration of some of these chemicals appear to be greater in tropical than temperate ecosystems, and in wet than dry ecosystems. This correlates with the assumption that herbivore and pathogen selection pressures are also greater in these ecosystems. Alkaloids, non-protein amino acids, terpenes and phenolic compounds have received the most attention in the relatively few ecological investigations of these chemicals in the wet tropics. Studies are discussed of the following: 1) floral fragrances as pollination attractants, 2) legume seed toxins against insects, 3) chemical variation on contrasting soil types relative to mammalian and insect herbivory, 4) chemical defense relative to successional status, 5) allelopathy, and 6) environmental constraints on production and variation of terpenoid resins in legumes, and the role of the variability in defense against insects and fungi. Future investigations, taking the perspective of plant physiological ecology, in which the costs of these chemicals in terms of the overall economy of the plant’s fitness are determined, would probably necessitate interdisciplinary collaboration due to the inherent complexity of wet tropical ecosystems.

Keywords

Toxicity Lignin Photosynthesis Flavonoid Carotenoid 

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Copyright information

© Dr W. Junk Publishers, The Hague 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean H. Langenheim
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta CruzUSA

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