Biochemical composition, energy content and chemical antifeedant and antifoulant defenses of the colonial Antarctic ascidian Distaplia cylindrica

Academic Article


  • The colonial ascidian Distaplia cylindrica occurs both as scattered individual colonies or in "gardens" of colonies in fine-grained soft substrata below 20 m depths off Anvers Island along the Antarctic Peninsula. Individual colonies, shaped as tall rod-like cylinders and anchored in the sediments by a bulbous base, may measure up to 7 m in height. D. cylindrica represent a considerable source of materials and energy for prospective predators, as well as potential surface area for fouling organisms. Nonetheless, qualitative in situ observations provided no evidence of predation by sympatric predators such as abundant sea stars, nor obvious biofouling of colony surfaces. Mean energy content of whole-colony tissue of D. cylindrica was relatively high for an ascidian (14.7 kJ g-1 dry wt), with most of this energy attributable to protein (12.7 kJ g-1 dry wt). The sympatric omnivorous sea star Odontaster validus consistently rejected pieces of D. cylindrica colonies in laboratory feeding assays, while readily ingesting similarly sized alginate food pellets. Feeding deterrence was determined to be attributable to defensive chemistry, as colonies of D. cylindrica are nutritionally attractive and lack physical protection (conspicuous skeletal elements or a tough outer tunic), and O. validus display significant feeding-deterrent responses to alginate food pellets containing tissue-level concentrations of organic extracts. In addition, high acidity measured on outer colony surfaces (pH 1.5) as well as homogenized whole-colony tissues (pH 2.5) are indicative of surface sequestration of inorganic acids. Agar food pellets prepared at tissue levels of acidity resulted in significant feeding deterrence in sea stars. Thus, both inorganic acids and secondary metabolites contribute to chemical feeding defenses. D. cylindrica also possesses potent antifoulant secondary metabolites. Tissue-level concentrations of hydrophilic and lipophilic extracts caused significant mortality in a sympatric pennate diatom. Chemical feeding deterrents and antifoulants are likely to contribute to the abundance of D. cylindrica and, in turn, play a role in regulating energy transfer and community structure in benthic marine environments surrounding Antarctica. © Springer-Verlag 2004.
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    Author List

  • McClintock JB; Amsler MO; Amsler CD; Southworth KJ; Petrie C; Baker BJ
  • Start Page

  • 885
  • End Page

  • 894
  • Volume

  • 145
  • Issue

  • 5