Omega-3 PUFA profoundly affect neural, physiological, and behavioural competences - implications for systemic changes in trophic interactions

Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2021 Oct;96(5):2127-2145. doi: 10.1111/brv.12747. Epub 2021 May 20.


In recent decades, much conceptual thinking in trophic ecology has been guided by theories of nutrient limitation and the flow of elements, such as carbon and nitrogen, within and among ecosystems. More recently, ecologists have also turned their attention to examining the value of specific dietary nutrients, in particular polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), among which the omega-3 PUFA, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) play a central role as essential components of neuronal cell membranes in many organisms. This review focuses on a new neuro-ecological approach stemming from the biochemical (mechanistic) and physiological (functional) role of DHA in neuronal cell membranes, in particular in conjunction with G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). We link the co-evolution of these neurological functions to metabolic dependency on dietary omega-3 PUFA. We outline ways in which deficiencies in dietary DHA supply may affect, cognition, vision, and behaviour, and ultimately, the biological fitness of consumers. We then review emerging evidence that changes in access to dietary omega-3 PUFA may ultimately have profound impacts on trophic interactions leading to potential changes in community structure and ecosystem functioning that, in turn, may affect the supply of DHA within and across ecosystems, including the supply for human consumption.

Keywords: DHA; G-protein coupled receptors; behaviour; biological membranes; ecological fitness; food-web ecology; neurophysiology; omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Ecosystem*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3*
  • Humans


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids