Competition amongst microbes for space and nutrients in the marine environment is a powerful selective force which has led to the evolution of a variety of effective strategies for colonising and growing on surfaces. We are particularly interested in the chemical ecology of marine epibiotic bacteria which live on the surfaces of marine algae or invertebrates. Over 400 strains of surface-associated bacteria from various species of seaweed and invertebrate from Scottish coastal waters were isolated and 35% of them shown to produce antimicrobial compounds. This is a much higher proportion than free living marine isolates or soil bacteria. In addition, many strains which did not normally produce antibiotics could be induced to do so by exposing them to small amounts of live cells, supernatants from other bacterial cultures or other chemicals. Thus the number of strains able to produce antibiotics appears to be much higher than previously thought. Induction of antibiotic production was elicited by other marine epibionts and also by terrestrial human pathogens such as Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. An understanding of this type of chemical induction and the factors regulating non-constitutive secretion of antimicrobial compounds will allow more effective strategies for searching for new chemotherapeutic antibiotics to be designed.