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PLoS One. 2013 Apr 9;8(4):e61291. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061291. Print 2013.

Costs and benefits of chemical defence in the Red Alga Bonnemaisonia hamifera.

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  • 1Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences - Tjärnö, University of Gothenburg, Strömstad, Sweden.


A number of studies have shown that the production of chemical defences is costly in terrestrial vascular plants. However, these studies do not necessarily reflect the costs of defence production in macroalgae, due to structural and functional differences between vascular plants and macroalgae. Using a specific culturing technique, we experimentally manipulated the defence production in the red alga Bonnemaisonia hamifera to examine if the defence is costly in terms of growth. Furthermore, we tested if the defence provides fitness benefits by reducing harmful bacterial colonisation of the alga. Costly defences should provide benefits to the producer in order to be maintained in natural populations, but such benefits through protection against harmful bacterial colonisation have rarely been documented in macroalgae. We found that algae with experimentally impaired defence production, but with an externally controlled epibacterial load, grew significantly better than algae with normal defence production. We also found that undefended algae exposed to a natural epibacterial load experienced a substantial reduction in growth and a 6-fold increase in cell bleaching, compared to controls. Thus, this study provides experimental evidence that chemical defence production in macroalgae is costly, but that the cost is outweighed by fitness benefits provided through protection against harmful bacterial colonisation.

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