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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 263:299-306 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps263299

Palatability and defense of some tropical infaunal worms: alkylpyrrole sulfamates as deterrents to fish feeding

Cynthia E. Kicklighter1, Julia Kubanek1,2, Todd Barsby1, Mark E. Hay1,*

1School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332-0230, USA 2School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332-0400, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Numerous studies have investigated chemical defenses among sessile species growing on hard substrates, but few have addressed this for mobile species in soft-sediment communities. We investigated the palatability and potential chemical defenses of 11 worm species from soft-sediment systems in southern Florida, USA. Three species were unpalatable to the bluehead wrasse Thalassoma bifasciatum. The polychaete Cirriformia tentaculata and the hemichordate Ptychodera bahamensis were uniformly unpalatable. For the polychaete Eupolymnia crassicornis, the exposed tentacles were unpalatable, but the body, which remains protected in a deeply buried tube, was palatable. These unpalatable worms were chemically defended; extracts of C. tentaculata, P. bahamensis, and the tentacles of E. crassicornis deterred fish feeding. For C. tentaculata, bioassay-guided fractionation demonstrated that a mixture of 3 closely related alkylpyrrole sulfamates deterred fish at naturally occurring concentrations (2-n-hexylpyrrole sulfamate [1.6% of worm dry mass], 2-n-heptylpyrrole sulfamate [3.1% dry mass], and 2-n-octylpyrrole sulfamate [0.8% dry mass]). This appears to be the first documentation of characterized natural products defending a marine worm from consumers. For P. bahamensis and the tentacles of E. crassicornis, deterrent effects of crude extracts decomposed before specific compounds could be identified.

KEY WORDS: Chemical defense · Marine worms · Cirriformia tentaculata · Soft-sediment · 2-n-hexylpyrrole · 2-n-heptylpyrrole · 2-n-octylpyrrole

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