Feeding behavior and acquisition of zooxanthellae by planula larvae of the sea anemone Anthopleura elegantissima
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Symbiotic associations between cnidarians and photosynthetic dinoflagellates (i.e., zooxanthellae) are common in the marine environment. Many symbiotic cnidarians produce offspring that are initially nonsymbiotic. These new hosts must acquire symbiotic algae from environmental sources. We examined zooxanthella acquisition by laboratory-reared planula larvae of the temperate sea anemone Anthopleura elegantissima. Larvae ingested zooxanthellae while they were feeding. However, the signal that prompted larval feeding behavior did not originate from the symbiotic algae; the addition of algal cells to larval cultures never elicited a feeding response. In contrast, the addition of macerated animal tissue from several sources invariably generated a strong feeding response, which resulted in the larvae indiscriminately ingesting any particulate matter that was present, including zooxanthellae or other unicellular algae. Ingested zooxanthellae were incorporated into endodermal cells, where they remained undigested, while all other ingested material was digested or expelled within 24 h. Our results provide evidence that one source of zooxanthellae likely to serve as a route of infection in the natural environment is zooxanthella-laden mucus egested by anemones. This egested material fulfilled both of the criteria necessary for successful infection: it prompted larvae to begin feeding and provided an abundant supply of zooxanthellae that were ingested and taken up into endodermal cells of the new host.
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