18 September 2017 – 20:02
‘The rise in ocean acidity levels is causing clown fish larvae to lose their ability to tell which are the best habitats for them to settle.’ Image (c) nile, used under licence and adapted from the original.
‘The rise in ocean acidity is causing clown fish larvae to lose their ability to pick the best habitats to settle.’ Image © nile, used under licence and adapted from the original.
There are more than 230,000 species of marine life in our ocean. So how do they communicate? We asked FameLab finalist and marine chemical ecologist Dr Mahasweta Saha.
How do sea creatures communicate?
Marine plants and animals, even those that can see and hear, mostly ‘talk’ to each other using chemical signals or cues. These signals make up much of the language of life in our oceans. Collectively, they are called ‘info-chemicals’, and they can be simple molecules or complex compounds.
Chemicals used to communicate within a single species are called ‘pheromones’, and those used to communicate between different species are called ‘allelochemicals’.
How do these chemical signals work?
For most marine species, chemical cues determine whether they eat, ﬁght with, run from, or mate with the creature next to them — as well as whether they are eaten by, infected by, or overgrown by natural enemies. They tell each animal how to forage, where to live, and what to eat. Signals from info-chemicals can govern the transfer of energy and nutrients within and among whole ecosystems.
A sea animal can assess sex, social status, and even whether a potential mate is sperm-deficient or sperm-sufﬁcient using chemical cues. These cues can be so powerful that male crabs will guard, carry, and attempt to mate with sponges, air-stones, rocks, or golf balls, if these have been treated with the correct female crab pheromone.
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