Galactolipids rather than phlorotannins as herbivore deterrents in the brown seaweed Fucus vesiculosus
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The first investigation of seaweed chemical defense against herbivores involved the brown seaweed Fucus vesiculosus and suggested defense via phlorotannins. The first demonstration of seaweed induction of secondary metabolites in response to herbivory also involved the genus Fucus and assumed a defensive function for phlorotannins. Many other investigations correlate herbivore feeding preference with changing levels of phlorotannins in this genus and others, but few directly test the effects of phlorotannins. No studies have assessed Fucus chemical defenses using bioassay-guided separation to investigate the complete complement of compounds deterring herbivores. We investigated the deterrence of F. vesiculosus chemical extracts using herbivore bioassays to guide our chemical investigations. Although crude extracts from F. vesiculosus strongly deterred feeding by the sea urchin Arbacia punctulata, phlorotannins from this extract did not deter feeding at 2× or 4× natural concentration by dry mass. Feeding deterrence was due to: (1) a polar galactolipid in the ethyl acetate-soluble extract, and (2) a non-phenolic compound, or compounds, in the water-soluble extract. Although this is the first evidence of galactolipids deterring herbivores, such defenses could be geographically and taxonomically widespread. The galactolipid we discovered in Fucus occurs in marine dinoflagellates, and a related metabolite that deters herbivory has recently been discovered in a tropical green seaweed. We were unable to identify the second deterrent compound, but deterrence occurred in a fraction containing carbohydrates, including sulfated sugars, but no phlorotannins. Given the polarity of these chemical deterrents, they could co-occur with and confound bioassays of phlorotannins if investigators test phlorotannin-containing algal extracts without further purification.