Allelopathic compounds of a red tide dinoflagellate have species-specific and context-dependent impacts on phytoplankton

Kelsey L. Poulson, R. Drew Sieg, Emily K. Prince, Julia Kubanek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


The use of chemical compounds to suppress the growth of competitors is a competitive strategy known as allelopathy that can be readily observed with many phytoplankton species in laboratory studies. However, it is unclear how these allelopathic interactions are altered when the complexity of the system is increased to more closely mimic natural conditions. In the present study, we conducted laboratory experiments to decipher how the identity, abundance, and growth stage of competitors affect the outcome of allelopathic interactions with the red tide dinoflagellate Karenia brevis. Multiple chemical compounds produced by K. brevis were found to inhibit the growth of 4 phytoplankton competitors, although these competitors were susceptible to different combinations of compounds. We found that physiological state and cell concentration of competitors were important determinants of allelopathy, with early-stage (lag phase) cells more vulnerable to allelopathic effects than later growth stages for the diatom Skeletonema grethae. Despite being allelopathic to multiple competitors in the laboratory, in a microcosm experiment using plankton field assemblages, extracellular extracts of 2 strains of K. brevis had no effects on some taxa although they stimulated the growth of some diatoms. This suggests that in a species-rich ecological community under oligotrophic conditions, the relative importance of K. brevis allelopathy may not be as high as most laboratory studies predict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-78
Number of pages10
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
StatePublished - 2010


  • Allelopathy
  • Competition
  • Phytoplankton
  • Red tide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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