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Predator cues reduce intraspecific trait variability in a marine dinoflagellate

Journal article
Authors S. Wohlrab
Erik Selander
U. John
Published in Bmc Ecology
Volume 17
Issue 1
ISSN 1472-6785
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Language en
Keywords Alexandrium, Grazer induced defense, Intraspecific trait variation, Predator-prey interaction, Saxitoxin gene expression, Alexandrium fundyense, Dinophyceae
Subject categories Marine ecology


Background: Phenotypic plasticity is commonplace and enables an organism to respond to variations in the environment. Plastic responses often modify a suite of traits and can be triggered by both abiotic and biotic changes. Here we analysed the plastic response towards a grazer of two genotypes of the marine dinoflagellate Alexandrium fundyense, evaluated the similarity of this response and discuss potential strain-specific trade-offs. We compared the expression of the known inducible defensive traits paralytic shellfish toxin content, and chain length. The effectiveness of the induced defense was assessed by monitoring grazing rates in both strains. Results: Our results show that the grazer cues diminish phenotypic variability in a population by driving the phenotype towards a common defended morphotype. We further showed that the expression of the sxtA gene that initiates the paralytic shellfish toxin biosynthesis pathway does not correlate with an observed increase in the paralytic shellfish toxin analogue saxitoxin, and that toxin induction differs in its physiological characteristics in both strains. Conclusion: Induced defense response in Alexandrium thus can directly affect further species interactions by reducing phenotypic variation and can result in genotype-dependent ecological trade-offs. © 2017 The Author(s).

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