Investigation of phytoplankton chemical ecology is still in nuce. Although microalgae are apparently isolated, an intense information exchange among cells occurs and it is provided by messages en-coded in chemicals synthesized by phytoplankton cells. Therefore, our task is not to define whether chemicals play a relevant role in phytoplankton ecology, but rather to de-code the messages delivered by molecules in order to better understand their role in (phyto-)plankton dynamics. In other words, we have to tune our comprehension tools to perceive and decipher the “chemical noise in the silent ocean” (1). Progress in our decoding mission is now supported by technical improvements of analytical methods, which allow fine characterization of chemicals even when they occur in traces.
Our paper entitled “Density-dependent oxylipin production in natural diatom communities: possible implications for plankton dynamics” offers an original contribution that can help a clearer understanding of the role of oxylipins in plankton dynamics. Oxylipins are secondary metabolites enzymatically synthesized by diatoms (2) and our results may support a possible role of these chemicals as communication molecules in diatom communities.
The path that led us to our conclusions was slow and tricky, but anyway possible because supported by three main factors. The first one was the time dedicated to the research activity of other scientists. In fact, only by the attendance of conferences and seminars it was possible to develop new ideas and to add relevant information to in support to our results. This taught me that investing time to listen to others is likely as important as focusing on your own data. A second relevant factor was the strong collaborative spirit of all the people who participated to the survey. The paper is based on a holistic approach including taxonomy, chemistry and theoretical ecology and it would have not been possible without a joint effort of experts in each research area. Finally, the availability of the Long-Term Ecological Research Station-MareChiara (LTER-MC, Gulf of Naples, Italy) (3) was crucial, because this program allowed having weekly samples and therefore a grain temporal resolution. Therefore, I hope that more long-term ecological programs will arise in the future and that the LTER sites that already exist (likely still too few) will be preserved because of their high informative potential.
Overall, I think that rather than data, the most significant difference in this manuscript was made by people.
1. Pohnert G. Chemical noise in the silent ocean. Journal of Plankton Research. 2009;32(2):141-4.
2. d'Ippolito G, Nuzzo G, Sardo A, Manzo E, Gallo C, Fontana A. Chapter Four - Lipoxygenases and Lipoxygenase Products in Marine Diatoms. In: Moore BS, editor. Methods in Enzymology: Academic Press; 2018. p. 69-100.
3. Morabito G, Mazzocchi MG, Salmaso N, Zingone A, Bergami C, Flaim G, et al. Plankton dynamics across the freshwater, transitional and marine research sites of the LTER-Italy Network. Patterns, fluctuations, drivers. Science of The Total Environment. 2018;627:373-87.