MEPS 213:53-65 (2001)  -  doi:10.3354/meps213053

Activated defense systems in marine macroalgae: evidence for an ecological role for DMSP cleavage

Kathryn L. Van Alstyne1,*, Gordon V. Wolfe2, Tess L. Freidenburg3, Anna Neill1, Corrine Hicken1

1Shannon Point Marine Center, 1900 Shannon Point Road, Anacortes, Washington 98221, USA
2Department of Biological Sciences, California State University, Chico, California 95929-0515, USA
3Department of Zoology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

ABSTRACT: Activated defenses against herbivores and predators are defenses whereby a precursor compound is stored in an inactive or mildly active form. Upon damage to the prey, the precursor is enzymatically converted to a more potent toxin or feeding deterrent. In marine systems, activated defenses are only known to exist in a few species of tropical macroalgae. In this study, we examined an activated defense system in temperate marine macroalgae in which the osmolyte dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) is converted to acrylic acid or acrylate, depending upon the pH, and dimethyl sulfide (DMS) by the enzyme DMSP lyase upon damage to the alga. We surveyed 39 species of red, green, and brown algae from the Washington and Oregon coasts, and found high concentrations of DMSP in the chlorophytes Acrosiphonia coalita, Codium fragile, Enteromorpha intestinalis, E. linza, Ulva californica, U. fenestrata, and U. taeniata, and in the rhodophyte Polysiphonia hendryi. Concentrations of DMSP ranged from 0.04% of the alga¹s fresh mass (FM) to 1.8% FM. We found significant DMSP lyase activity in 1 green alga, U. fenestrata, and 1 red alga, P. hendryi, with DMSP cleavage rates approaching 300 mmol kg-1 FM min-1. Loss of DMSP and the production of DMS when the tissues of U. californica and P. hendryi were crushed suggested that physical damage results in DMSP cleavage. In laboratory feeding preference experiments, acrylic acid deterred feeding by the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis at concentrations of 0.1 to 2% FM and by S. purpuratus at 0.25 to 2% FM, while the precursor DMSP functioned as a feeding attractant to both sea urchins. In contrast, feeding by the isopod Idotea wosnesenskii was not deterred by acrylic acid even at concentrations as high as 8% FM. Our data suggest that DMSP may function as a precursor in an activated defense system in diverse species of temperate macroalgae and may possibly contribute to the widespread success of the Ulvophyceae. This chemical system is also found in unicellular phytoplankton, and presents an opportunity to compare and contrast the ecological role of chemical defense among micro- and macroorganisms.

KEY WORDS: Acrylic acid · Activated defenses · DMSP · Herbivory · Macroalgae

Full text in pdf format