Dynamics of a peculiar plant-herbivore relationship: the photosynthetic ascoglossan Elysia timida and the chlorophycean Acetabularia acetabulum

Abstract

The ascoglossan mollusc Elysia timida Risso, 1818 retains functional chloroplasts from its algal food, the chlorophycean Acetabularia acetabulum (L.). Photosynthates from the plastids are an important source of organic nutrients for the mollusc. Chloroplast exploitation has an ecological function, allowing the ascoglossan to live entirely on an algal diet which is of limited, seasonal availability to other herbivores. Between October 1987 and July 1988, the annual evolution of the molluscan and algal populations was studied in a cove of Mazarrón Bay, southeast Spain. The population density of the mollusc is highly dependent on its food supply, being controlled by the seasonal life cycle of the algal population. During its life cycle, the degree of grazing by the mollusc decreases with increasing algal calcification, the cell walls of the alga progressively calcify, and the eventually highly calcificied stalks are completely resistant to ascoglossan grazing. In contrast, the exploitation of the algal chloroplasts retained by the molluscs increases during the seasonal cycle. The progressively increasing scarcity of food during the seasonal cycle may have led to the retention of symbiotic chloroplasts by E. timida. The developmental strategy of the ascoglossan also changes during the year: when food is abundant (in November, December, January, February and March) it is direct, with no planktonic larval phase, when food is scarce (in October, April, May and June) it is lecithotrophic, with a short planktonic larval phase. Chloroplast retention acts as a buffer, alleviating the effects of annual changes in density, structure and abundance of the alga on the nutritional state of the molluse.

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Communicated by J. M. Pérès, Marseille

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Marín, A., Ros, J.D. Dynamics of a peculiar plant-herbivore relationship: the photosynthetic ascoglossan Elysia timida and the chlorophycean Acetabularia acetabulum . Marine Biology 112, 677–682 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00346186

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Keywords

  • Life Cycle
  • Nutritional State
  • Seasonal Cycle
  • Cove
  • Ecological Function