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Chemical Ecology Research Group

Studying the chemical interactions between different organisms in the environment.

Chemical ecology is the study of chemical interactions between individual organisms, and is a natural partner of pharmacology, which studies chemical interactions within an organism. In collaboration with other disciplines, we have investigated how herbivores can eat plants which contain toxic chemicals without being poisoned. 

Current work focuses on signalling chemicals, such as pheromones, on which the social communication of most animals depends. At present we are seeking to characterise the scent chemicals of the brushtail possum and red fox. The findings may lead to better ways to control their pest populations.


Major achievements or grants

  • Demonstrating how the brushtail possum adapts to the eucalyptus oils in its diet by a combination of rapid metabolism and a pattern of feeding which limits the blood level of eucalyptus oil to tolerable levels. (McLean et al., 2007)
  • In studying the scent chemicals of the brushtail possum, discovering a new class of mammalian lipids, triacylglycerol estolides, in the paracloacal glands. (McLean et al., 2015)
  • The group is advocating for a new discipline, Pharm-Ecology, which covers the mutualistic collaboration between specialists in pharmacology and ecology. (McLean et al, APSA-ASCEPT Joint Scientific meeting, Hobart, Dec 2015)


  • William Foley - Professor, Research School of Biology, Australian National University
  • Jennifer Forbey - Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Boise State University, ID, USA
  • Clare McArthur - Associate Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney

Key Information

Other staff:

Contact details:


Research theme areas:

  • Other