Publication Details

Holland, A. & Kinnear, S. (2013). Interpreting the possible ecological role(s) of cyanotoxins: compounds for competitive advantage and/or physiological aide?. Marine Drugs, 11 (7), 2239-2258.


To date, most research on freshwater cyanotoxin(s) has focused on understanding the dynamics of toxin production and decomposition, as well as evaluating the environmental conditions that trigger toxin production, all with the objective of informing management strategies and options for risk reduction. Comparatively few research studies have considered how this information can be used to understand the broader ecological role of cyanotoxin(s), and the possible applications of this knowledge to the management of toxic blooms. This paper explores the ecological, toxicological, and genetic evidence for cyanotoxin production in natural environments. The possible evolutionary advantages of toxin production are grouped into two main themes: That of "competitive advantage" or "physiological aide". The first grouping illustrates how compounds produced by cyanobacteria may have originated from the need for a cellular defence mechanism, in response to grazing pressure and/or resource competition. The second grouping considers the contribution that secondary metabolites make to improved cellular physiology, through benefits to homeostasis, photosynthetic efficiencies, and accelerated growth rates. The discussion also includes other factors in the debate about possible evolutionary roles for toxins, such as different modes of exposures and effects on non-target (i.e., non-competitive) species. The paper demonstrates that complex and multiple factors are at play in driving evolutionary processes in aquatic environments. This information may provide a fresh perspective on managing toxic blooms, including the need to use a "systems approach" to understand how physico-chemical conditions, as well biological stressors, interact to trigger toxin production.



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