Induction of domoic acid production in diatoms—Types of grazers and diatoms are important

Nina Lundholm*, Bernd Krock, Uwe John, Jette Skov, Jinfeng Cheng, Marina Pančić, Sylke Wohlrab, Kristie Rigby, Torkel Gissel Nielsen, Erik Selander, Sara Harðardóttir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Grazers can induce toxin (domoic acid, DA) production in diatoms. The toxic response has been observed in two species of Pseudo-nitzschia and was induced by Calanus copepods. In this study, interactions between diatoms and copepods were further explored using different species of diatoms and copepods. All herbivorous copepods induced toxin production, whereas exposure to carnivorous copepods did not. In line with this, increasing the number of herbivorous copepods resulted in even higher toxin production. The induced response is thus only elicited by copepods that pose a real threat to the responding cells, which supports that the induced toxin production in diatoms evolved as an inducible defense

The cellular toxin content in Pseudo-nitzschia was positively correlated to the concentration of a group of specific polar lipids called copepodamides that are excreted by the copepods. This suggests that copepodamides are the chemical cues responsible for triggering the toxin production. Carnivorous copepods were found to produce less or no copepodamides.

Among the diatoms exposed to grazing herbivorous copepods, only two of six species of Pseudo-nitzschia and none of the Nitzschia or Fragilariopsis strains responded by producing DA, indicating that not all Pseudo-nitzschia species/strains are able to produce DA, and that different diatom species might have different strategies for coping with grazing pressure. Growth rate was negatively correlated to cellular domoic acid content indicating an allocation cost associated with toxin production. Long-term grazing experiments showed higher mortality rates of grazers fed toxic diatoms, supporting the hypothesis that DA production is an induced defense mechanism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHarmful Algae
Pages (from-to)64-73
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Co-evolution
  • Cost
  • Diatom
  • Copepod
  • Defensive response
  • Gazing
  • Induction
  • Toxin production
  • Domoic acid
  • Pseudo-nitzschia
  • Trade-off


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