Coral larval settlement induction using tissue-associated and exuded coralline algae metabolites and the identification of putative chemical cues

Zachary A. Quinlan, Matthew James Bennett, Milou G.I. Arts, Mark Levenstein, Daisy Flores, Haley M. Tholen, Lucas Tichy, Gabriel Juarez, Andreas F. Haas, Valérie F. Chamberland, Kelly R.W. Latijnhouwers, Mark J.A. Vermeij, Amy Wagoner Johnson, Kristen L. Marhaver, Linda Wegley Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reef-building crustose coralline algae (CCA) are known to facilitate the settlement and metamorphosis of scleractinian coral larvae. In recent decades, CCA coverage has fallen globally and degrading environmental conditions continue to reduce coral survivorship, spurring new restoration interventions to rebuild coral reef health. In this study, naturally produced chemical compounds (metabolites) were collected from two pantropical CCA genera to isolate and classify those that induce coral settlement. In experiments using four ecologically important Caribbean coral species, we demonstrate the applicability of extracted, CCA-derived metabolites to improve larval settlement success in coral breeding and restoration efforts. Tissue-associated CCA metabolites induced settlement of one coral species, Orbicella faveolata, while metabolites exuded by CCA (exometabolites) induced settlement of three species: Acropora palmata, Colpophyllia natans and Orbicella faveolata. In a follow-up experiment, CCA exometabolites fractionated and preserved using two different extraction resins induced the same level of larval settlement as the unfractionated positive control exometabolites. The fractionated CCA exometabolite pools were characterized using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry, yielding 145 distinct molecular subnetworks that were statistically defined as CCA-derived and could be classified into 10 broad chemical classes. Identifying these compounds can reveal their natural prevalence in coral reef habitats and facilitate the development of new applications to enhance larval settlement and the survival of coral juveniles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20231476
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number2009
StatePublished - Oct 18 2023


  • coral larval settlement
  • crustose coralline algae
  • metabolomics
  • settlement cues

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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