SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  18 July 2013
Volume 14 Issue 7

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Misled by Pollutants: The Infochemical Effect—Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecotoxicology

Ursula Klaschka, University of Applied Sciences Ulm and Ruediger Berghahn, Umweltbundesamt

Aquatic organisms use sophisticated, highly specific and dynamic chemical communication systems. They use these systems, which are driven by “infochemicals,” to orient themselves, detect prey and predators and attract sexual partners. There is strong evidence that anthropogenic compounds may interfere with the chemical communication of organisms in the environment. This effect is called the "Infochemical Effect. "

The contributions to this session held at the SETAC Europe 23rd Annual Meeting in Glasgow, Scotland in May showed the multiple aspects of the Infochemical Effect, accurately reflecting the complexity of research needed for its proper understanding. It was demonstrated that experimental analysis of the Infochemical Effect is a big challenge. In addition to biotic factors (e.g., the presence of predators) and anthropogenic infochemicals (e.g., biocides, fungicides and metals), slight changes of abiotic factors, such as temperature or water chemistry (e.g., ion concentrations and pH value), can have major effects on chemical communication. Within this context, it is also quite possible that the Infochemical Effect may help to explain inconsistencies in former experimental findings.

This session was the first to address and discuss the Infochemical Effect at an international level. Chemical communication and its anthropogenic disturbances need more attention in aquatic ecotoxicology. The Infochemical Effect should be regarded as a separate research field, even though it is closely connected to others such as mixture toxicity, sublethal effects and behavioral and stress related endpoints.

The relevance of the Infochemical Effect to the aquatic environment is still under scrutiny. More experimental tools and evidence are needed at this early stage. The complexity of the chemosensory communication chain and the mechanisms involved requires clearly structured and well coordinated research approaches. The following statements may help to find such a structure:

  • The Infochemical Effect can clearly be isolated from other ecotoxicological effects in water
  • Organisms may be acclimating, acclimatizing and learning in changed odorous environments
  • The final step will be the proof of relevance of the Infochemical Effect in the aquatic environment
  • Corresponding sessions are proposed for future SETAC meetings

Authors’ contact information:,

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