Differential Toxic Effects of Ulva lactuca (Chlorophyta) on the herbivorous gastropods, Littorina littorea and L. obtusata (Mollusca)

Paulette Peckol, Smith College
Alysha B. Putnam, Greenfield Community College

Archived as published.


Members of the genus Ulva are widespread and abundant in intertidal and shallow subtidal areas but there are conflicting data regarding susceptibility to herbivory. While some studies have documented that Ulva spp. were favored by a diversity of marine herbivores, other work has revealed herbivore deterrence. We investigated grazing and growth rates of the littorinid species, Littorina littorea and L. obtusata, when offered Fucus vesiculosus, Ascophyllum nodosum, Ulva lactuca, and Chondrus crispus, highlighting distinctive vulnerabilities to toxic effects of U. lactuca. Ulva lactuca was the preferred food of L. littorea, while L. obtusata showed no grazing on this ephemeral algal species. In contrast, F. vesiculosus was highly preferred by L. obtusata. Although L. littorea demonstrated a grazing preference for U. lactuca, growth rate of this gastropod species was nearly 3× greater when fed F. vesiculosus, suggesting a non-lethal, negative effect of U. lactuca on L. littorea with long-term exposure. Mortality of L. obtusata ranged from 0% to 100% when held in the presence of various Ulva densities for 1 week, and Ulva exudate depressed herbivory of this gastropod. We conclude that the water-soluble, toxic exudate produced by U. lactuca in response to herbivory had allelochemical properties, and may contain a cleavage product (acrylic acid) of dimethylsulfoniopropionate or reactive oxygen species (i.e., H2O2). Observed differences in susceptibility to Ulva toxicity by the littorinid species may be related to generalist versus specialist feeding and habitat strategies.