Opinion: The accustomed inconsistency in biochemical ecology – Enhanced knowledge of the evolution and function of natural products frequently implies teleological misinterpretations

  • Dirk Selmar Instiute for Plant Biology,TU Braunschweig, Germany


Secondary plant products are the basis for complex interactions between plants and their environment. By protecting plants against pathogens and herbivores or by attracting potential pollinators, they accomplish various and distinct ecological functions. The enormous diversity of these natural compounds is the result of evolutionary processes that have been driven by the selection of corresponding advantageous properties. Unfortunately, when discussing this con-text, we frequently formulate statements such as “Plants have ac-quired the ability to synthesize secondary plant products in order to...” without realizing that such assertions contradict the Darwinian principles of evolution and thus represent the Lamarckian view of a teleological evolution. The primary reason for these unconscious misapprehensions seems to be the ambiguous usage of the term “biological function”, whose denotation frequently includes an inten-tion or a special purpose. In this treatise, the related associations and conclusions are outlined and depicted.

In memoriam Reinhard Lieberei