Neural processing, perception, and behavioral responses to natural chemical stimuli by fish and crustaceans

Charles D. Derby, Peter W. Sorensen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

155 Scopus citations


This manuscript reviews the chemical ecology of two of the major aquatic animal models, fish and crustaceans, in the study of chemoreception. By necessity, it is restricted in scope, with most emphasis placed on teleost fish and decapod crustaceans. First, we describe the nature of the chemical world perceived by fish and crustaceans, giving examples of the abilities of these animals to analyze complex natural odors. Fish and crustaceans share the same environments and have evolved some similar chemosensory features: the ability to detect and discern mixtures of small metabolites in highly variable backgrounds and to use this information to identify food, mates, predators, and habitat. Next, we give examples of the molecular nature of some of these natural products, including a description of methodologies used to identify them. Both fish and crustaceans use their olfactory and gustatory systems to detect amino acids, amines, and nucleotides, among many other compounds, while fish olfactory systems also detect mixtures of sex steroids and prostaglandins with high specificity and sensitivity. Third, we discuss the importance of plasticity in chemical sensing by fish and crustaceans. Finally, we conclude with a description of how natural chemical stimuli are processed by chemosensory systems. In both fishes and crustaceans, the olfactory system is especially adept at mixture discrimination, while gustation is well suited to facilitate precise localization and ingestion of food. The behaviors of both fish and crustaceans can be defined by the chemical worlds in which they live and the abilities of their nervous systems to detect and identify specific features in their domains. An understanding of these worlds and the sensory systems that provide the animals with information about them provides insight into the chemical ecology of these species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)898-914
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgment We thank our many colleagues who have contributed to work in this field. We also thank our current funding sources for support during preparation of this review (NIH DC00312, NSF IBN-0614685, Legislative Citizen Commission for Minnesota Resources, and the Minnesota Agriculture Experiment Station).


  • Chemical ecology
  • Chemoreception
  • Gustation
  • Olfaction
  • Pheromone


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