Opisthobranch grazing results in mobilisation of spherulous cells and re-allocation of secondary metabolites in the sponge Aplysina aerophoba

Wu, Yu. C.; García-Altares, M.; Pintó, B.; Ribes, M.; Hentschel, U.; Pita, L.
Scientific Reports
Sponges thrive in marine benthic communities due to their specific and diverse chemical arsenal against predators and competitors. Yet, some animals specifically overcome these defences and use sponges as food and home. Most research on sponge chemical ecology has characterised crude extracts and investigated defences against generalist predators like fish. Consequently, we know little about chemical dynamics in the tissue and responses to specialist grazers. Here, we studied the response of the sponge Aplysina aerophoba to grazing by the opisthobranch Tylodina perversa, in comparison to mechanical damage, at the cellular (via microscopy) and chemical level (via matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization imaging mass spectrometry, MALDI-imaging MS). We characterised the distribution of two major brominated alkaloids in A. aerophoba, aerophobin-2 and aeroplysinin-1, and identified a generalised wounding response that was similar in both wounding treatments: (i) brominated compound-carrying cells (spherulous cells) accumulated at the wound and (ii) secondary metabolites reallocated to the sponge surface. Upon mechanical damage, the wound turned dark due to oxidised compounds, causing T. perversa deterrence. During grazing, T. perversa's way of feeding prevented oxidation. Thus, the sponge has not evolved a specific response to this specialist predator, but rather relies on rapid regeneration and flexible allocation of constitutive defences.
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