Algae ponds used in industrial biomass production are susceptible to pathogen or grazer infestation, resulting in pond crashes with high economic costs. Current methods to monitor and mitigate unhealthy ponds are hindered by a lack of early indicators that precede culture crash. We used solid-phase microextraction (SPME) coupled with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to identify volatiles emitted from healthy and rotifer infested cultures of Microchloropsis salina. After 48 hours of algal growth, marine rotifers, Brachionus plicatilis, were added to the algae cultures and volatile organic compounds (VOC) were sampled from the headspace using SPME fibers. A GC-MS approach was used in an untargeted analysis of VOCs, followed by preliminary identification. The addition of B. plicatilis to healthy cultures of M. salina resulted in decreased algal cell numbers, relative to uninfected controls, and generated trans-β-ionone and β-cyclocitral, which were attributed to carotenoid degradation. The abundances of the carotenoid-derived VOCs increased with rotifer consumption of algae. Our results indicate that specific VOCs released by infected algae cultures may be early indicators for impending pond crashes, providing a useful tool to monitor algal biomass production and pond crash prevention.
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