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Electricity, the interaction between electrically charged objects, is widely known to be fundamental to the functioning of
living systems. However, this appreciation has largely been restricted to the scale of atoms, molecules, and cells. By contrast,
the role of electricity at the ecological scale has historically been largely neglected, characterised by punctuated
islands of research infrequently connected to one another. Recently, however, an understanding of the ubiquity of electrical
forces within the natural environment has begun to grow, along with a realisation of the multitude of ecological
interactions that these forces may influence. Herein, we provide the first comprehensive collation and synthesis of
research in this emerging field of electric ecology. This includes assessments of the role electricity plays in the natural ecology
of predator–prey interactions, pollination, and animal dispersal, among many others, as well as the impact of anthropogenic
activity on these systems. A detailed introduction to the ecology and physiology of electroreception – the
biological detection of ecologically relevant electric fields – is also provided. Further to this, we suggest avenues for future
research that show particular promise, most notably those investigating the recently discovered sense of aerial
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-413
Number of pages31
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number383–413.
Early online date12 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to express their gratitude to Talia Sullens, Ellard Hunting, Duncan Edgley, Katie Lihou, Kosta Manser, Beth Harris, and the anonymous reviewers for their feedback on the text and figures in this article. S.J.E. is supported by a European Research Council grant to D.R., grant agreement No. 743093 ELECTROBEE. D.R. is also supported by BBSRC grant BB/T003235/1.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Biological Reviews published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cambridge Philosophical Society.


  • sensory biology
  • animal behaviour
  • electric fields
  • static charge
  • atmospheric electricity
  • neuroethology
  • physiology
  • aerial electroreception
  • anthropogenic noise


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