MEPS 215:261-274 (2001)  -  doi:10.3354/meps215261

Chemical defenses in the sea hare Aplysia parvula: importance of diet and sequestration of algal secondary metabolites

David W. Ginsburg*, Valerie J. Paul**

Marine Laboratory, University of Guam, UOG Station, Mangilao, Guam 96923, USA
*Present address: Dept of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089, USA **Corresponding author. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: Marine algae produce a variety of secondary metabolites that function as herbivore deterrents. Algal metabolites, however, often fail to deter damage by some herbivores such as mesograzers that both live and feed on their host alga. In addition, the degree to which intraspecific chemical variation in an alga affects a mesograzer¹s feeding behavior and its ability to deter predators is poorly understood. The red alga Portieria hornemannii contains the secondary metabolites apakaochtodene A and B, which have been shown to vary in concentration among sites on Guam and act as significant deterrents to fish feeding. On Guam, the sea hare Aplysia parvula preferred and grew best when fed its algal host P. hornemannii. However, high concentrations of P. hornemannii crude extract and the pure compounds apakaochtodene A and B acted as feeding deterrents to A. parvula. Despite differences among sites in the levels of apakaochtodenes A and B, A. parvula showed no significant preference for P. hornemannii from any one location. Aplysia parvula found on P. hornemannii sequestered apakaochtodenes, and both whole animals and body parts were unpalatable to reef fishes. Sea hares found on the red alga Acanthophora spicifera, which contains no unpalatable secondary metabolites, had no apakaochtodene compounds and were eaten by fishes. This observation is consistent with the hypothesis that diet-derived algal metabolites in sea hares play a role in deterring predation.


KEY WORDS: Sea hare · Tri-trophic interaction · Antipredator chemical defense · Apakaochtodene A and B · Aplysia · Portieria · Guam


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