, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 47–53 | Cite as

Turning the game around: toxicity in a nudibranch-sponge predator–prey association

  • João Filipe da Cruz
  • Helena Gaspar
  • Gonçalo Calado
Research Paper


Escalation theory proposes enemy-related selection as the most relevant factor of natural selection among individual organisms. When hazardous to predators, prey might be considered enemies that influence predator evolution. Opisthobranch molluscs that prey on chemically defended prey are an interesting study case on this subject. Predation on chemically defended species paved the way for opisthobranchs to enter in an arms race, developing means to detoxify and/or excrete harmful compounds, which led to the sequestration of those compounds and their self-defensive use, an escalation of defenses. Here we aim to understand whether the opisthobranch predator is better protected than its chemically defended prey, using as predator–prey model, a nudibranch (Hypselodoris cantabrica) and the sponge it preys upon (Dysidea fragilis), and from which it obtains deterrent chemical compounds. Specimens of both species were collected on the Portuguese coast, and their crude extracts were analyzed and used in palatability tests. Nudibranchs revealed a higher natural concentration of crude extract, probably due to a progressive accumulation of the compounds. Both predator and prey extracts revealed similar mixtures of deterrent metabolites (furanosesquiterpenes). Palatability tests revealed a more effective deterrence in the nudibranch extracts because significant rejection rates were observed at lower concentrations than those necessary for the sponge extracts to have the same effect. We concluded that the predator is chemically better protected than its prey, which suggests that its acquisition of chemical defenses reveals a defensive escalation.


Predator–prey relationship Escalation hypothesis Chemical defenses Opisthobranchs Sponges 



The authors thank the technical support of Laboratório Nacional de Energia e Geologia staff, especially Filomena Costa. The authors also thank Sasha Vasconcelos, for the English review and an anonymous reviewer who made several suggestions that improved the manuscript. This study was developed under the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia project PTDC/MAR/65854/2006 and the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia/Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche bilateral project FCUL-ICB 2009/2010.


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • João Filipe da Cruz
    • 1
    • 2
  • Helena Gaspar
    • 2
  • Gonçalo Calado
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Faculdade de Ciências BiomédicasUniversidade Lusófona de Humanidades e TecnologiasLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Departamento de Química e Bioquímica (DQB)Centro de Química e Bioquímica (CQB), Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa (FCUL)LisbonPortugal
  3. 3.IMAR, Departamento de Ciências e Engenharia do Ambiente, Faculdade de Ciências e TecnologiaUniversidade Nova de LisboaCaparicaPortugal

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