Seaweed allelopathy against coral: surface distribution of seaweed secondary metabolites by imaging mass sepctrometry
Andras, Tiffany D.
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Coral reefs are in global decline, with seaweeds increasing as corals decrease. Though seaweeds have been shown to inhibit coral growth, recruitment, and survivorship, the mechanism of these interactions is poorly known. Here we use field experiments to show that contact with four common seaweeds induces bleaching on natural colonies of Porites rus. Controls in contact with inert, plastic mimics of seaweeds did not bleach, suggesting treatment effects resulted from allelopathy rather than shading, abrasion, or physical contact. Bioassay-guided fractionation of the hydrophobic extract from the red alga Phacelocarpus neurymenioides revealed a previously characterized antibacterial metabolite, Neurymenolide A, as the main allelopathic agent. For allelopathy of lipid soluble metabolites to be effective, the metabolites would need to be deployed on algal surfaces where they could transfer to corals on contact. We used desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (DESI-MS) to visualize and quantify Neurymenolide A on the surface of P. neurymenioides and found the metabolite on all surfaces analyzed. The highest concentrations of Neurymenolide A were on basal portions of blades where the plant is most likely to contact other benthic competitors.