Natural products (secondary metabolites) found in marine invertebrates are often thought to be produced by resident symbiotic bacteria, and these products appear to play a major role in the symbiotic interaction of bacteria and their hosts. In these animals, there is extensive variation, both in chemistry and in the symbiotic bacteria that produce them. Here, we sought to answer the question of what factors underlie chemical variation in the ocean. As a model, we investigated the colonial tunicate Lissoclinum patella because of its rich and varied chemistry and its broad geographic range. We sequenced mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase 1 (COXI) genes, and found that animals classified as L. patella fall into three phylogenetic groups that may encompass several cryptic species. The presence of individual natural products followed the phylogenetic relationship of the host animals, even though the compounds are produced by symbiotic bacteria that do not follow host phylogeny. In sum, we show that cryptic populations of animals underlie the observed chemical diversity, suggesting that the host controls selection for particular secondary metabolite pathways. These results imply novel approaches to obtain chemical diversity from the oceans, and also demonstrate that the diversity of marine natural products may be greatly impacted by cryptic local extinctions.
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