Invasive species as a new food source: does a nudibranch predator prefer eating an invasive bryozoan?
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- Pratt, M.C. & Grason, E.W. Biol Invasions (2007) 9: 645. doi:10.1007/s10530-006-9065-x
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Membranipora membranacea is an invasive bryozoan that was first found in the Gulf of Maine in 1987 and within two years became the dominant organism living on kelps. Membranipora may have become dominant so quickly because it had little competition in a relatively unoccupied niche; however, lack of predation has also probably played a major role. Where Membranipora is native, there is usually a specialist nudibranch predator that keeps the population in check. For example, in European populations, the nudibranch Polycera quadrilineata prefers Membranipora while Onchidoris muricata is known to prefer another bryozoan, Electra pilosa. Electra, Membranipora, and Onchidoris are all now found in the Gulf of Maine while Polycera is not. We tested whether Onchidoris would (1) eat Membranipora at all, (2) eat Membranipora and Electra at different rates, and (3) show a preference for eating Membranipora or Electra when given a choice. We found that Onchidoris does eat Membranipora, and it generally eats Membranipora faster than Electra. However, when given a choice, Onchidoris prefers Electra. Onchidoris typically reproduces in the spring and grows over the fall and winter, but has recently been found reproducing in the winter in New Hampshire. Although it does not survive the winter as well as Electra, Membranipora is the dominant organism living on many macroalgae in the late summer and fall. Thus, the large Membranipora food source now available in the summer and fall may allow Onchidoris to reproduce earlier.