, 15:34 | Cite as

Metabolomic richness and fingerprints of deep-sea coral species and populations

  • Samuel A. VohsenEmail author
  • Charles R. Fisher
  • Iliana B. Baums
Original Article



From shallow water to the deep sea, corals form the basis of diverse communities with significant ecological and economic value. These communities face many anthropogenic stressors including energy and mineral extraction activities, ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures. Corals and their symbionts produce a diverse assemblage of compounds that may help provide resilience to some of these stressors.


We aim to characterize the metabolomic diversity of deep-sea corals in an ecological context by investigating patterns across space and phylogeny.


We applied untargeted Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry to examine the metabolomic diversity of the deep-sea coral, Callogorgia delta, across three sites in the Northern Gulf of Mexico as well as three other deep-sea corals, Stichopathes sp., Leiopathes glaberrima, and Lophelia pertusa, and a shallow-water species, Acropora palmata.


Different coral species exhibited distinct metabolomic fingerprints and differences in metabolomic richness including core ions unique to each species. C. delta was generally least diverse while Lophelia pertusa was most diverse. C. delta from different sites had different metabolomic fingerprints and metabolomic richness at individual and population levels, although no sites exhibited unique core ions. Two core ions unique to C. delta were putatively identified as diterpenes and thus may possess a biologically important function.


Deep-sea coral species have distinct metabolomic fingerprints and exhibit high metabolomic diversity at multiple scales which may contribute to their capabilities to respond to both natural and anthropogenic stressors, including climate change.


Callogorgia delta Diversity Rarefaction Chemotaxonomy 



We thank Andrew Patterson, Phil Smith, Imhoi Koo, and Manuel Liebeke for advice and assistance with metabolomics analysis, Dana E Williams for A. palmata collections, and the ROV Hercules pilots and crew of the EV Nautilus for making this work possible. We would also like to thank Steve Auscavitch, Carlos Gomez, Styles Smith, Alaina Weinheimer, Calum Campbell, and Meghann Devlin-Durante for assistance with collections and laboratory analyses. This is contribution no. 519 from the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG) consortium.

Author contributions

C.R.F and I.B.B conceived and designed the research. S.A.V. conducted the research and designed and conducted the analyses. S.A.V. wrote the paper with contributions from all authors.


This study was funded by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative awarded to the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG) consortium. Collection of Acropora palmata was funded through NSF OCE-1516763.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

S.A.V. declares that he has no conflict of interest. C.R.F. declares that he has no conflict of interest. I.B.B. declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. Acropora palmata was sampled under permit number FKNMS-2014-148-A2 issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Permits are not required to sample deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico. Letters of acknowledgment were obtained for our research cruise from NOAA following the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 98 KB)
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Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 20045 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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