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For Immediate Release: December 14, 2007
Contact: Carol Schachinger, 508-289-7149, cschachi@mbl.edu

The Biological Bulletin

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Photo Legend: The cover of the December 2007 issue of The Biological Bulletin, designed by Beth Liles, MBL. Images, clockwise (beginning at top left), picture the taxa, with their environments shown in insets:

Black-eared mouse (Peromyscus melanotis) foraging on a chemically defended monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) within a high-altitude forest habitat of central Mexico. Credits: J. Glendinning, W. Conway, L. Brower.

Sacoglossan sea slug (Oxynoe sp.) on the green alga Caulerpa sertularioides in the Florida Keys. The chemical defenses of Caulerpa spp. may have allowed representatives of these species to invade new habitats, as in the case of Caulerpa taxifolia in the Mediterranean Sea. Credit: R. Williams

California newt (Taricha torosa), which possesses a potent toxin that has potentially profound effects on riparian stream communities within coastal mountain environments. Credit: R. Ferrer

Sea hare (Aplysia californica), shown here releasing ink for protection from predators, inhabits giant kelp forests (Macrocystis pyrifera) along the California coast. Credits: G. Anderson, E. Hanauer

Emerging Field of Neuroecology is Showcased in The Biological Bulletin

MBL, WOODS HOLE, MA — A plant laces its leaves with a noxious chemical, forcing a hungry herbivore to choose between starving, eating a potentially toxic item, or moving on. A newt secretes a potent neurotoxin to defend against predators, unwittingly setting off a cascade of effects in its freshwater pond, where other inhabitants co-opt the toxin for different uses. A squid escapes a predator by clouding the water with ink – but is this a visual defense, or are there chemical implications for the ecosystem as well?

These and other real-world scenarios are explored in a virtual symposium on the new field of neuroecology in the December issue of The Biological Bulletin. This just-emerging field bridges the gap between analyzing the neural basis of behavior (neuroethology) and the consequences of that behavior at the ecological levels of populations and communities.

“Neuroecology recognizes a continuum that runs from physiology to individual behavior to populations and communities,” says Richard K. Zimmer of the University of California, Los Angeles, who organized the virtual symposium with Charles D. Derby of Georgia State University. “Rarely do scientific investigations link in these different scales of biology. And this is a gap that is especially critical to cross. There is a treasure trove of important discoveries to be made about how populations are regulated, in this case by behavior and the physiology that determines behavior.”

This Biological Bulletin virtual symposium includes six research papers by leading scientists in neuroecology, as well as an historical overview by Zimmer and Derby of the strands that combine in this interdisciplinary field. Topics include:
  • How neurotoxins emitted for chemical defense function as “keystone molecules” that have vast ecological consequences at multiple trophic levels, by Richard K. Zimmer and Ryan P. Ferrer of the University of California, Los Angeles
  • How predators cope with foods that have been laced with a noxious, defensive chemical, by John I. Glendinning of Columbia University
  • Ecological functions of the natural products that marine organisms produce for chemical defense, by Valerie J. Paul et. al., Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, Florida
  • An evolutionary perspective on the defenses used by terrestrial arthropods, especially insects, by William E. Conner et. al., Wake Forest University
  • A review of inking as a means of chemical defense, especially for marine molluscs such as squid, octopuses, sea hares, and cuttlefish, by Charles D. Derby of George State University
  • The use of chemical defenses in plant-microbe interactions, by Florian Weinberger, Leibniz-Institut für Meereswissenschaften, Kiel, Germany

“The tools are now available to work on neuroecology at a wide range of levels of biological organization,” says Zimmer. “An investigator of behavior doesn’t have to stop at the level of cellular physiology or individual organisms; it is now possible to identify the consequences for energy and material flow throughout entire food webs, and for distributions and abundances of organisms within communities. There will continue to be real payoffs from making these broad connections.”

For a copy of any of these papers, please contact Carol Schachinger at cschachi@mbl.edu or visit The Biological Bulletin online at www.biolbull.org.


Published since 1897 by the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, The Biological Bulletin is one of America's oldest, peer-reviewed scientific journals. It publishes outstanding experimental research on the full range of biological topics and organisms, from the fields of Neuroscience, Behavior, Physiology, Ecology, Evolution, Development, Reproduction, Cell Biology, Biomechanics, Symbiosis, and Systematics; and it especially invites articles about those novel phenomena and contexts characteristic of intersecting fields. The electronic version, Biological Bulletin Online, contains the full content of each issue, including all figures and tables, beginning with the February 2001 issue. PDF files of the entire archive from 1897-2000 are also available.

The MBL is a leading international, independent, nonprofit institution dedicated to discovery and to improving the human condition through creative research and education in the biological, biomedical and environmental sciences. Founded in 1888 as the Marine Biological Laboratory, the MBL is the oldest private marine laboratory in the Western Hemisphere. For more information, visit www.MBL.edu.