Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Indole is a key environmental cue that is used by many organisms. Based on its biochemistry, we suggest indole is used so universally, and by such different organisms, because it derives from the metabolism of tryptophan, a resource essential for many species yet rare in nature. These properties make it a valuable, environmental cue for resources almost universally important for promoting fitness. We then describe how indole is used to coordinate actions within organisms, to influence the behavior of conspecifics and can even be used to change the behavior of species that belong to other kingdoms. Drawing on the evolutionary framework that has been developed for understanding animal communication, we show how this is diversely achieved by indole acting as a cue, a manipulative signal, and an honest signal, as well as how indole can be used synergistically to amplify information conveyed by other molecules. Clarifying these distinct functions of indole identifies patterns that transcend different kingdoms of organisms.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





behavioral cue, behavioral signal, competition, inter-kingdom interactions, mutualism, Animal Communication, Animals, Bacteria, Bacterial Physiological Phenomena, Biological Evolution, Eukaryota, Female, Humans, Indoles, Male, Microbial Interactions, Pheromones