Marine Biology

, Volume 99, Issue 3, pp 375–385 | Cite as

Feeding biology and ecological impact of an introduced nudibranch,Tritonia plebeia, New England, USA

  • R. A. Allmon
  • K. P. Sebens
Article

Abstract

The nudibranchTritonia plebeia (Johnston) was first observed in New England in 1983, on vertical rock walls at 7 m depth off Nahant, Massachusetts. This northern European species preys exclusively on the soft coralAlcyonium digitatum (Linneaus) in its natural habitat. At Nahant, it preyed primarily on the closely relatedAlcyonium siderium Verrill. Laboratory studies indicated that it could locate its prey by distance chemoreception and by visual orientation towards tall dark surfaces which could help it find the vertical walls, overhangs, and boulder sides where the soft corals occur. Field studies showed thatT. plebeia fed primarily on colony bases, causing extensive damage and whole colony mortality. The most important endemic predator onA. siderium, Coryphella verrucosa (Sars), preyed preferentially on hydroids, but would graze polyps off the top portions ofA. sederium colonies, causing little permanent damage to the colony, during the winter months when hydroids were scarce. AlthoughC. verrucosa occasionally behaved agonistically towardT. plebeia, there was no indication in laboratory or field studies that either nudibranch had an effect on the other's foraging through interference competition. Extensive predation byT. plebeia caused the disappearance ofA. siderium at two sites (Outer and Inner Shag Rocks) and a sharp reduction at a third site (Inner East Point). The higher mortalities at the Shag Rocks sites most likely occurred because of a simultaneous urchin (Strogylocentrotus droebachiensis) population expansion. As space among aggregates ofA. siderium opened up due toT. plebeia predation, urchins were able to forage on the vertical walls and scrape off remaining colonies. At a fourth site, Halfway Rock, whereT. plebeia were seldom present,A. siderium colonies also suffered high mortalities. This increae in mortality began nearly a year before urchin populations increased, and during a summer of abnormally high water temperatures at Halfway Rock. The high temperatures, followed by urchin predation on remaining colonies could account for the disappearance of allA. siderium colonies at this site.T. plebeia disappeared at all sites by summer 1986 andA. siderium populations have since stabilized, but community-level changes at all sites whereA. siderium were removed have persisted.

Keywords

Vertical Wall Soft Coral Hydroid Interference Competition Rock Site 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. A. Allmon
    • 1
  • K. P. Sebens
    • 1
  1. 1.Marine Science CenterNortheastern UniversityNahantUSA

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