MEPS 303:123-131 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps303123

Seagrass–pathogen interactions: ‘pseudo-induction’ of turtlegrass phenolics near wasting disease lesions

LaTina Steele1, 3, Melanie Caldwell1, Anne Boettcher1, *, Tom Arnold2

1Department of Biological Sciences, Life Sciences Building 124, University of South Alabama, Mobile, Alabama 36688, USA
2Department of Biology, Dana Hall, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania 17013, USA
3Present address: Marine Environmental Science Consortium, Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory, 101 Bienville Boulevard, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Marine protists of the genus Labyrinthula cause the seagrass wasting disease, which is associated with regional die-offs of eelgrass Zostera marina and also infects turtlegrass Thalassia testudinum. The ability of seagrasses to resist pathogen attack is determined by multiple factors, which are poorly understood. One factor hypothesized to influence seagrass disease resistance is the presence of (poly)phenolic natural products such as caffeic acid, which inhibits the growth of L. zosterae in in vitro laboratory bioassays. This hypothesis has been supported by reports of pathogen-induced phenolic accumulations in eelgrass Z. marina. To test the response of T. testudinum to inoculation with Labyrinthula sp., we conducted a series of culture experiments wherein plants were inoculated with Labyrinthula sp. isolated from turtlegrass beds in Perdido Bay, Florida (USA). Concentrations of phenolic acids and condensed tannins were quantified in diseased leaves as well as those treated with 5 mM salicylic acid, a signaling molecule associated with pathogen-induced responses in plants. In infection experiments, increases in the concentrations of several phenolic acids, but not condensed tannins, were observed in tissues above, but not below, microbial lesions. Salicylic acid (SA) treatments did not induce any phenolic compound, either when applied alone or in concert with the pathogen. The induction of phenolic acids above, but not below, infection sites suggests that T. testudinum leaves did not respond to the pathogen specifically. Instead, the pattern is consistent with the predictions of the sink/source model of plant defense, which predicts increased phenolic contents in cases where wounds disrupt plant resource allocation and cause a local overabundance of carbon-based resources. Thus, we suggest that the emergence of Labyrinthula sp. lesions on turtlegrass blades causes a ‘pseudo-induction’ of specific phenolics as carbon resources over-accumulate in tissues located above wound sites.


KEY WORDS: Turtlegrass · Thalassia testudinum · Wasting disease · Labyrinthula spp. · Pathogen · Phenolics · Induced defense


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