Journal of Systematics and Evolution

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  • 收稿日期:2021-09-30 接受日期:2022-02-15

Plant–insect chemical communication in ecological communities: An information theory perspective

Pengjuan Zu1,2, Reinaldo García-García3, Meredith Schuman4, Serguei Saavedra5, and Carlos J. Melián2,6   

  1. 1Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zurich, Schmelzbergstrasse 9, CH-8092, Zurich, Switzerland. ORCID: 0000-0002-3222-598X

    2Department Fish Ecology & Evolution, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag), Seestrasse 79, CH-6047, Kastanienbaum, Switzerland

    3Departamento de Física y Matemática Aplicada, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Navarra, Irunlarrea 1, 31008, Pamplona, Navarra, Spain. 

    4Departments of Chemistry and Geography, University of Zurich,Winterthurerstrasse 190, Zurich CH-8057, Switzerland. 

    5Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Av., 02139 Cambridge, MA, USA.

    6 Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 6, Bern, CH-3012, Switzerland. 

  • Received:2021-09-30 Accepted:2022-02-15


Cross-species communication, where signals are sent by one species and perceived by others, is one of the most intriguing types of communication that functionally links different species to form complex ecological networks. Global change and human activity can affect communication by increasing fluctuations in species composition and phenology, altering signal profiles and intensity, and introducing noise. So far, most studies on cross-species communication have focused on a few specific species isolated from ecological communities. Scaling up investigations of cross-species communication to the community level is currently hampered by a lack of conceptual and practical methodologies. Here, we propose an interdisciplinary framework based on information theory to investigate mechanisms shaping cross-species communication at the community level. We use plants and insects, the cornerstones of most ecosystems, as a showcase and focus on chemical communication as the key communication channel. We first introduce some basic concepts of information theory, then we illustrate information patterns in plant–insect chemical communication, followed by a further exploration of how to integrate information theory into ecological and evolutionary processes to form testable mechanistic hypotheses. We conclude by highlighting the importance of community-level information as a means to better understand the maintenance and workings of ecological systems, especially during rapid global change.

Key words: Chemical communication, ecological networks, functional traits, information theory, plant-insect interaction, volatile organic compounds, Zipf’s law