, Volume 148, Issue 2, pp 304–311 | Cite as

Dopamine functions as an antiherbivore defense in the temperate green alga Ulvaria obscura

  • Kathryn L. Van AlstyneEmail author
  • Amorah V. Nelson
  • James R. Vyvyan
  • Devon A. Cancilla
Plant Animal Interactions


On northeastern Pacific coasts, Ulvaria obscura is a dominant component of subtidal “green tide” blooms, which can be harmful to marine communities, fisheries, and aquaculture facilities. U. obscura is avoided by herbivores relative to many other locally common macrophytes, which may contribute to its ability to form persistent blooms. We used a bioassay-guided fractionation method to experimentally determine the cause of reduced feeding on Ulvaria by echinoderms, molluscs, and arthropods. Our results indicated that dopamine, which constituted an average of 4.4% of the alga’s dry mass, was responsible for decreased feeding by sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis). Subsequent experiments demonstrated that dopamine also reduced the feeding rates of snails (Littorina sitkana) and isopods (Idotea wosnesenskii). Dopamine is a catecholamine that is a common neurotransmitter in animals. The catecholamines dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine also occur in at least 44 families of higher plants. The functions of catecholamines in plants are less well known than in animals but are likely to be diverse and include both physiological and ecological roles. Our results are the first experimental demonstration of a plant or algal catecholamine functioning as a feeding deterrent. This novel use of dopamine by Ulvaria may contribute to the formation and persistence of harmful Ulvaria blooms in northeastern Pacific coastal waters.


Algae Chemical defense Dopamine Herbivory Plant–herbivore interactions 



We thank T. Meredith, M. Dutton, and G. McKeen for their assistance with laboratory analyses, experiments and field collections, and T. Nelson, E. Marmol, and two anonymous reviewers for comments on this manuscript. This work was funded by a Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research and a grant from Western Washington University’s Bureau for Faculty Research to A. V. Nelson, and NSF grants (IBN-0090825 and DBI-0300970) to K. L. Van Alstyne.


  1. Amsler C, Fairhead V (2006) Defensive and secondary chemical ecology of brown algae. Adv Bot Res (in press)Google Scholar
  2. Appel HM (1993) Phenolics in ecological interactions: the importance of oxidation. J Chem Ecol 19:1521–1552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aronson R, Precht W (2000) Herbivory and algal dynamics on the coral reef at Discovery Bay, Jamaica. Limnol Oceanogr 45:251–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bolser RC, Hay ME (1996) Are tropical plants better defended? Palatability and defenses of temperate vs. tropical seaweeds. Ecology 77:2269–2286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cronin G, Paul VJ, Hay ME, Fenical W (1997) Are tropical herbivores more resistant than temperate herbivores to seaweed chemical defenses? Diterpenoid from Dictyota acutiloba as feeding deterrent for tropical versus temperate dishes and urchins. J Chem Ecol 23:289–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fletcher R (1996) The occurrence of “green tides”—a review. In: Schramm W, Nienhuis P (eds) Marine benthic vegetation: recent changes and the effects of eutrophication. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 7–43Google Scholar
  7. Henley W, Ramus J (1989) Time course of physiological response of Ulva rotundata to growth irradience transitions. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 54:171–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Himmelman J, Nedelec H (1990) Urchin foraging and algal survival strategies in intensely grazed communities in Eastern Canada. Can J Aquat Sci 47:1011–1026Google Scholar
  9. Jin Q, Dong S (2003) Comparative studies on the allelopathic effects of two different strains of Ulva pertusa on Heterosigma akashiwo and Alexandrium tamarense. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 293:41–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Johnson D, Welsh B (1985) Detrimental effects of Ulva lactuca (L.) exudates and low oxygen on estuarine crab larvae. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 86:73–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kandel E, Schwartz J, Jessell T (2000) Principles of neural science. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Kuklin A, Conger B (1995) Catecholamines in plants. J Plant Growth Regul 14:91–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lotze H, Worm B (2000) Variable and complementary effects of herbivores on different life stages of bloom-forming macroalgae. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 200:167–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lotze H, Schramm W, Schories D (1999) Control of macroalgal blooms at early developmental stages: Pilayella littoralis versus Enteromorpha spp. Oecologia 119:46–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Magre E (1974) Ulva lactuca L. negatively affects Balanus balanoides (L.) (Cirripedia Thoracica) in tidepools. Crustaceana 27:231–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Manly B (1993) Comments on the design and analysis of multiple-choice feeding-preference experiments. Oecologia 93:149–152Google Scholar
  17. Mason H (1955) Comparative biochemistry of the phenolase complex. Adv Enzymol 16:105–184Google Scholar
  18. McClintock J, Baker B (2001) Marine chemical ecology. CRC Press, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  19. Nelson AV (2003) Chemical defenses of Ulvaria obscura: effects on food preference of Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis. In: Department of Biology. Western Washington University, Bellingham, pp 55Google Scholar
  20. Nelson TA, Nelson AV, Tjoelker M (2003a) Seasonal and spatial patterns of “green tides” (ulvoid algal blooms) and related water quality parameters in the coastal waters of Washington State, USA. Bot Mar 46:263–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Nelson T, Lee D, Smith B (2003b) Are ‘green tides’ harmful algal blooms? Toxic properties of water-soluble extracts from two bloom-forming macroalgae, Ulva fenestrata and Ulvaria obscura (Ulvophyceae). J Phycol 39:874–879Google Scholar
  22. O’Clair R, Lindstrom S (2000) North Pacific seaweeds. Plant Press, Auke BayGoogle Scholar
  23. Paul VJ (1992) Ecological roles of marine natural products. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y.Google Scholar
  24. Paul VJ, Van Alstyne KL (1992) Activation of chemical defenses in the tropical marine algae Halimeda spp. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 160:191–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Peckol P, Rivers J (1995) Competitive interactions between the opportunisitic macroalgae Cladophora vagabunda (Chlorophyta) and Gracilaria tikvahiae (Rhodophyta) under eutrophic conditions. J Phycol 31:223–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Raffaelli D, Raven J, Poole L (1998) Ecological impact of green algal blooms. Oceanogr Mar Biol Annu Rev 36:97–125Google Scholar
  27. Roshchina V (2001) Neurotransmitters in plant life. Science Publishers, EnfieldGoogle Scholar
  28. Rowcliffe J, Watkinson A, Sutherland W (2001) The depletion of algal beds by geese: a predictive model and test. Oecologia 127:361–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schramm W, Nienhuis P (1996) Introduction. In: Schramm W, Nienhuis P (eds) Marine benthic vegetation: recent changes and the effects of eutrophication. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 1–4Google Scholar
  30. Shah Z, Sharma P, Vohora S (2003) Ginkgo biloba normalises stress-elevated alterations in brain catecholamines, serotonin and plasma corticosterone levels. Eur Neuropharm 13:321–325Google Scholar
  31. Steelink C, Yeung M, Caldwell R (1967) Phenolic constituents of healthy and wound tissues in the giant cactus (Carnegiea gigantea). Phytochemistry 6:1435–1440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Szopa J, Wilczynski G, Fiehn O, Wenczel A, Willmitzer L (2001) Identification and quantification of catecholamines in potato plants (Solanum tuberosum) by GC-MS. Phytochemistry 58:315–320CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Tocher RD, Craigie JS (1966) Enzymes of marine algae. II. Isolation and identification of 3 hydroxytyramine as the phenolase substrate in Monostroma fuscum. Can J Bot 44:605–608Google Scholar
  34. Tocher RD, Meeuse BJD (1966) Enzymes of marine algae. I. Studies of phenolase in the green alga, Monostroma fuscum. Can J Bot 44:551–561CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Valiela I, McClelland J, Hauxwell J, Behr P, Hersh D, Foreman K (1997) Macroalgal blooms in shallow estuaries: controls and ecophysiological and ecosystem consequences. Limnol Oceanogr 42:1105–1118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Van Alstyne KL, Houser LT (2003) Dimethylsulfide release during macroinvertebrate grazing and its role as an activated chemical defense. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 250:175–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Van Alstyne KL, Wolfe GV, Freidenburg TL, Neill A, Hicken C (2001) Activated defense systems in marine macroalgae: evidence for an ecological role for DMSP cleavage. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 213:53–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn L. Van Alstyne
    • 1
    Email author
  • Amorah V. Nelson
    • 1
  • James R. Vyvyan
    • 2
  • Devon A. Cancilla
    • 3
  1. 1.Shannon Point Marine CenterWestern Washington UniversityAnacortesUSA
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryWestern Washington UniversityBellinghamUSA
  3. 3.Scientific Technical ServicesWestern Washington UniversityBellinghamUSA

Personalised recommendations