Chemical warfare on coral reefs: Sponge metabolites differentially affect coral symbiosis in situ

Pawlik, Joseph R., Laura Steindler, Timothy P. Henkel, Sven Beer, Micha Ilan

Limnol. Oceanogr., 52(2), 2007, 907-911 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2007.52.2.0907

ABSTRACT: Coral reef ecosystems are characterized by high species diversity and intense levels of biotic interaction, particularly competition for space among sessile benthic invertebrates. Using in situ pulse amplitude modulated fluorometry, we demonstrate that secondary metabolites present in the tissues of some Caribbean sponge species have rapid allelopathic effects on the symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) that live in coral tissues and provide the energy for coral growth and reef formation. When incorporated into stable gels at natural concentrations and placed in contact with brain coral heads on shallow reefs for ~18 h, secondary metabolites of some sponge species caused a decrease in the photosynthetic potential of the symbiotic algae and bleaching of the coral tissue, whereas those of others interfered with algal photosynthesis without causing bleaching. Some sponges produce metabolites with different modes of action for competing with reef corals.

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