Induction of metamorphosis in the sea urchin Holopneustes purpurascens by a metabolite complex from the algal host Delisea pulchra

Jane E. Williamson*, Rocky De Nys, Naresh Kumar, David G. Carson, Peter D. Steinberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


Most benthic invertebrates have complex life cycles with planktonic larvae that return to the substratum to settle and metamorphose into a benthic stage. Although naturally produced chemical cues have long been thought to be important for the settlement or metamorphosis of invertebrate larvae, few ecologically relevant chemical cues have been clearly identified. The marine echinoid Holopneustes purpurascens has a complex life cycle, with a planktonic, nonfeeding dispersive larva that metamorphoses into a benthic stage that lives in the canopy of subtidal benthic algae such as the red alga Delisea pulchra and the kelp Ecklonia radiata. Recently recruited juveniles are found primarily on D. pulchra, and we hypothesized that this was in response to a chemical cue produced by this alga. Competent larvae metamorphosed in the presence of D. pulchra, or seawater surrounding this alga, but not in response to the presence of E. radiata or its extracts. A cue for metamorphosis was isolated and characterized from D. pulchra and found to be a water-soluble complex of the sugar floridoside and isethionic acid in a 1:1 molar ratio. The floridoside-isethionic acid complex also triggered settlement in H. purpurascens; however, this response was less specific than metamorphosis and was reversible. Larvae of H. purpurascens also metamorphosed in the presence of several other species of red, but not brown or green, algae from their habitat. Floridoside is found only in red algae, suggesting that the floridoside-isethionic acid complex may be acting as a cue for metamorphosis in other red algae as well as in D. pulchra.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)332-345
Number of pages14
JournalBiological Bulletin
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2000
Externally publishedYes


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