, Volume 82, Issue 2, pp 192–200

Multiple factors promoting narrow host range in the sea hare, Aplysia californica

  • Steven C. Pennings
Original Papers

DOI: 10.1007/BF00323535

Cite this article as:
Pennings, S.C. Oecologia (1990) 82: 192. doi:10.1007/BF00323535


Juvenile sea hares, Aplysia californica, utilize only the red algae Plocamium cartilagineum and Laurencia pacifica as host plants at Santa Catalina Island, CA. I tested three hypotheses which might account for this pattern of host choice: 1) A. californica specialize on the algae on which they grow best, 2) A. california specialize on algae from which they acquire secondary compounds that protect them from predators, and 3) A. californica specialize on certain algae in order to lower their encounter rates with predators. The results suggested that host range in the Aplysia californica system is affected by more than one factor. The first hypothesis was supported. A. californica of three size classes grew well on Plocamium, but could not grow at all on most other species of algae. Larger A. californica were able to grow on species of algae that smaller ones could not. The second hypothesis was also supported. Small A. californica grown on Plocamium were rich in terpenes. Small A. californica grown on Ulva sp. were terpene-free. Rock wrasses, Halichoeres semicinctus, were more likely to eat Ulva-fed A. californica than Plocamium-fed A. californica. Other fish and lobster, Panulirus interruptus, did not discriminate between the two groups. Kelp bass, Paralabrax clathratus, which were force-fed Ulva-fed A. californica regurgitated them less often, and after digesting them more completely, than did Paralabrax force-fed Plocamium-fed A. californica. The third hypothesis was rejected. A. californica located on Plocamium were not more cryptic to the opisthobranch Aglaja inermis (navanax), or to the pomacentrid fish, Hypsypops rubicundus, than were A. californica located on other algae. In addition, navanax, a specialist predator of opisthobranchs, was significantly more abundant on Plocamium than on other algae.

Key words

Acquired chemical defenseAplysia californicaHost rangePlant-herbivore interactionsSpecialization

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven C. Pennings
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA