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Open Access Research article

Competition between the invasive macrophyte Caulerpa taxifolia and the seagrass Posidonia oceanica: contrasting strategies

Gérard Pergent1*, Charles-François Boudouresque2, Olivier Dumay1, Christine Pergent-Martini1 and Sandy Wyllie-Echeverria3

Author Affiliations

1 UMR CNRS SPE 6134, University of Corsica, Faculty of Sciences, BP 52, 20250 Corte, France

2 UMR CNRS DIMAR, University campus of Luminy, 13288 Marseilles cedex 9, France

3 University of Washington, UW Botanic Gardens, Center for Urban Horticulture, Box 354115, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

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BMC Ecology 2008, 8:20  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-8-20

Published: 11 December 2008

Abstract

Background

Plant defense strategy is usually a result of trade-offs between growth and differentiation (i.e. Optimal Defense Theory – ODT, Growth Differentiation Balance hypothesis – GDB, Plant Apparency Theory – PAT). Interaction between the introduced green alga Caulerpa taxifolia and the endemic seagrass Posidonia oceanica in the Mediterranean Sea offers the opportunity to investigate the plausibility of these theories. We have accordingly investigated defense metabolite content and growth year-round, on the basis of an interaction gradient.

Results

When in competition with P. oceanica, C. taxifolia exhibits increased frond length and decreased Caulerpenyne – CYN content (major terpene compound). In contrast, the length of P. oceanica leaves decreases when in competition with C. taxifolia. However, the turnover is faster, resulting in a reduction of leaf longevity and an increase on the number of leaves produced per year. The primary production is therefore enhanced by the presence of C. taxifolia. While the overall concentration of phenolic compounds does not decline, there is an increase in some phenolic compounds (including ferulic acid and a methyl 12-acetoxyricinoleate) and the density of tannin cells.

Conclusion

Interference between these two species determines the reaction of both, confirming that they compete for space and/or resources. C. taxifolia invests in growth rather than in chemical defense, more or less matching the assumptions of the ODT and/or PAT theories. In contrast, P. oceanica apparently invests in defense rather than growth, as predicted by the GDB hypothesis. However, on the basis of closer scrutiny of our results, the possibility that P. oceanica is successful in finding a compromise between more growth and more defense cannot be ruled out.