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Marine Ecology Progress Series


Research seeking to explain the ecological role of polyphenolics (phlorotannins) in plants and brown algae has largely focused on 2 alternative concepts, the carbon/nutrient (C/N) balance and the inducible defense models. We tested the hierarchy of effects of both models on phlorotannin production in the brown alga Fucus vesiculosus (Fucales) by simultaneously manipulating the N environment and simulating herbivory for 2 oceanic (high and low intertidal) and estuarine populations. We measured phlorotannin levels in algae under control, grazed, N-enriched, and grazed + N-enriched treatments with time (0 to 14 d) throughout the year to determine onset and duration of the response. We found greater support for the inducible defense model; generally, both grazed and grazed + N- enriched fronds had significantly higher phlorotannin concentrations than control thalli. When we found an inducible response, it was rapid (within 3 d) and relatively long term (>2 wk). However, the induced response was minimal for both oceanic populations during March, perhaps due to fixed-C limitation, and was absent for the estuarine and high intertidal populations during June, the period of peak phlorotannins at both sites. Although N enrichment resulted in depressed concentrations of phlorotannins only for the estuarine population, we did measure a significant negative correlation between tissue N and phenolics for the oceanic population, as predicted by the C/N balance model. Thus, while the inducible defense response takes preeminence over resource availability effects (C/N balance hypothesis), this study revealed that phlorotannin production is likely controlled by a complex interaction of environmental, developmental and defense-related factors, emphasizing the applicability of both models in marine systems.


Brown algae, Fucus, Inducible defense, Marine herbivory, Phlorotannins, Resource availability





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