Coral Reefs

, 30:309

Allelochemicals produced by Caribbean macroalgae and cyanobacteria have species-specific effects on reef coral microorganisms


    • Department of Biological SciencesAuburn University
  • V. J. Paul
  • M. R. Liles
    • Department of Biological SciencesAuburn University
  • N. E. Chadwick
    • Department of Biological SciencesAuburn University

DOI: 10.1007/s00338-011-0747-1

Cite this article as:
Morrow, K.M., Paul, V.J., Liles, M.R. et al. Coral Reefs (2011) 30: 309. doi:10.1007/s00338-011-0747-1


Coral populations have precipitously declined on Caribbean reefs while algal abundance has increased, leading to enhanced competitive damage to corals, which likely is mediated by the potent allelochemicals produced by both macroalgae and benthic cyanobacteria. Allelochemicals may affect the composition and abundance of coral-associated microorganisms that control host responses and adaptations to environmental change, including susceptibility to bacterial diseases. Here, we demonstrate that extracts of six Caribbean macroalgae and two benthic cyanobacteria have both inhibitory and stimulatory effects on bacterial taxa cultured from the surfaces of Caribbean corals, macroalgae, and corals exposed to macroalgal extracts. The growth of 54 bacterial isolates was monitored in the presence of lipophilic and hydrophilic crude extracts derived from Caribbean macroalgae and cyanobacteria using 96-well plate bioassays. All 54 bacterial cultures were identified by ribotyping. Lipophilic extracts from two species of Dictyota brown algae inhibited >50% of the reef coral bacteria assayed, and hydrophilic compounds from Dictyota menstrualis particularly inhibited Vibrio bacteria, a genus associated with several coral diseases. In contrast, both lipo- and hydrophilic extracts from 2 species of Lyngbya cyanobacteria strongly stimulated bacterial growth. The brown alga Lobophora variegata produced hydrophilic compounds with broad-spectrum antibacterial effects, which inhibited 93% of the bacterial cultures. Furthermore, bacteria cultured from different locations (corals vs. macroalgae vs. coral surfaces exposed to macroalgal extracts) responded differently to algal extracts. These results reveal that extracts from macroalgae and cyanobacteria have species-specific effects on the composition of coral-microbial assemblages, which in turn may increase coral host susceptibility to disease and result in coral mortality.


AntimicrobialBacteriaCompetitionCoral–algal interactionPhase-shift

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© Springer-Verlag 2011