An evaluation of chemical and physical defenses against fish predation in a suite of seagrass-associated ascidians

Academic Article


  • The palatability of two solitary and three colonial species of ascidians commonly found in sub-tropical seagrass meadows was evaluated using the abundant, sympatric, omnivorous pinfish Lagodon rhomboides as a model predator. Bite-sized pieces of fresh tissues of both solitary and one of the three colonial ascidian species were unpalatable to fish. Lipophilic and hydrophilic extracts of the three unpalatable species did not cause feeding deterrence indicating that secondary metabolites are not responsible for the lack of palatability. Distaplia bermudensis, the one colonial ascidian that was unpalatable to fish, had a highly acidified outer tunic (pH = 1.5). We tested the ability of acidified agar food pellets (pH = 1.5) to deter pinfish and found that the fish readily ingested acidified pellets. The toughness of the tunic of all five ascidian species was evaluated by measuring the Force (N) required to penetrate the tunic using a penetrometer. Tunic toughness is likely to explain the lack of palatability of the solitary ascidians Styela plicata and Molgula occidentalis as their tunics required a force of > 34. N to penetrate. Tunic toughness may be a particularly effective adaptation for ascidian defense in seagrass habitats where fish with strong crushing jaws, such as those that commonly occur in coral reef systems, are rare. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Koplovitz G; McClintock JB
  • Start Page

  • 48
  • End Page

  • 53
  • Volume

  • 407
  • Issue

  • 1