Review: The cryptic chemical traits that mediate plant community composition

Plants produce a huge variety of specialized metabolites, many with roles in defense. Metabolic profiles rarely follow phylogenetic lines; in fact, closely related species often produce dramatically different suites of metabolites. When it comes to defense chemistry, it is advantageous to be different from your neighbor; species can carve out their own niche as a consequence of the pests and pathogens they can avoid.  Sedio explores the use of comparative structural metabolomics to understand the role of specialized metabolites in community ecology. Specifically, he describes an approach that compares the structural similarity of unknown compounds from complex samples. By comparing thousands of structures from hundreds of plants, it should be possible to test the hypothesis that chemical diversity drives ecological coexistence of plant species diversity. New Phytol. 10.1111/nph.14438