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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 362:119-128 (2008)  -  DOI:

Antibacterial chemical defenses in Hawaiian corals provide possible protection from disease

Deborah J. Gochfeld1,*, Greta S. Aeby2

1National Center for Natural Products Research, PO Box 1848, University of Mississippi, University, Mississippi 38677, USA
2Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, PO Box 1346, Kaneohe, Hawaii 96744, USA

ABSTRACT: Diseases of marine organisms, and corals in particular, have been reported with increasing frequency over the past 3 decades. Although little is known about resistance to disease in corals, a potential mechanism of defense is the production of antimicrobial compounds that protect corals from microbial pathogens. We assessed the antibacterial activity of crude aqueous extracts from 3 common Hawaiian reef corals, Montipora capitata, Porites lobata, and Pocillopora meandrina, against 9 strains of bacteria. The bacteria selected included known coral pathogens, potential marine pathogens found in human waste, and bacteria previously identified from the surfaces of Hawaiian corals. Extracts from all 3 coral species exhibited high levels of antibacterial activity. Overall, 54.3% of assays resulted in bacterial growth inhibition. In addition, 9.9% of extracts stimulated the growth of certain bacteria. Although levels of overall antibacterial activity did not differ significantly among coral species (ranging from 40.7% of assays for P. meandrina to 63.0% of assays for M. capitata), the 3 species exhibited a high degree of selectivity as demonstrated by significant variability in their effects toward specific bacteria. Extracts also exhibited intraspecific variability, both within and between sites, and significant site-by-species interactions were observed against 6 of 9 bacterial strains. In M. capitata, healthy corals had significantly higher levels of antibacterial activity than those affected by Montipora White Syndrome, and affected tissues had significantly higher levels of antibacterial activity than unaffected tissues. Variability in antibacterial activity of Hawaiian corals may, in part, explain differential susceptibility to disease at the colony, species, or population level.

KEY WORDS: Antibacterial · Coral disease · Resistance · Inducible defenses · Montipora · Pocillopora · Porites

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Cite this article as: Gochfeld DJ, Aeby GS (2008) Antibacterial chemical defenses in Hawaiian corals provide possible protection from disease. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 362:119-128.

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