Elysia feeding

February 26, 2004
From: Skip Pierce

Note added 30 May 2006: This may also refer to Elysia clarki, a new species which was previously considered a colour form of E. crispata

Hi Bill,
I¹ve been reading the recent batch of messages on Bahamian elysiids with interest. In particular, the comments about what algae they might be feeding on. We have been working with Elysia crispata lately, as that is the species in which we¹ve been able to demonstrate the presence of an algal nuclear gene in the slug genomic DNA. [message #9830]. For us the issue became whose (what species of algae) gene is it? The literature is confusing with respect to the algae that E. crispata consumes. For many months we were doing a variety of molecular and biochemical experiments with the wrong, as it turned out, information that E. crispata was a Caulerpa eater. In fact, it does not eat Caulerpa at all. To make a long story short, my graduate student, Nick Curtis, and post doc, Steve Massey, have spent the last year showing, with both molecular markers and electron microscopy, that the sequestered chloroplasts in E. crispata actually originated in THREE species of algae, (Penicillus capitatus and two species of Halimeda). Furthermore, if you take starved, non-green E. crispata (they turn a brownish-yellow after their symbiotic plastids fail) and put them on Caulerpa, they die, but if you put them on P. capitatus they rapidly recover both their green color and their intracellular chloroplasts. This is the first time that I know of where chloroplasts from more than one species of algae has been found in an elysiid - in fact some of our micrographs show plastids from two algal species in the SAME cell in E. crispata. Even more remarkable (at least to me - remember that I¹m basically a cell biologist, so I¹m easily amazed) is that E. crispata juveniles do not eat P. capitatus (or Caulerpa). We raised a bunch of juvenile E. crispata from egg masses and put them on a wide array of chlorophyte species (including several Caulerpa spp). They only ate Bryopsis and, to my surprise (because it does not occur with much abundance in the field sites in the Keys where we collect the adult slugs), Derbesia. We have not yet finished the microscopy to see if the juveniles sequestered the plastids from both these species, but the juveniles survived, grew, and took on adult morphology in both cases. Having worked for many years on E. chlorotica,, which is extremely specific about what it eats, namely Vaucheria (although it will eat V. litorea or V. compacta) or nothing, this wider algal preference in E. crispata was a surprise (not to mention a complication in the sense of our molecular experiments).

I sort of think that the differences between the juvenile and adult preferences in algae may be related to algal filament size. Both Bryopsis and Derbesia have very narrow filaments, which may be easier for the juvenile mouths and radulae to handle, compared to the wider (and more calcified) P. capitatus. Furthermore, the filaments of P. capitatus are narrower than those of P. dumentosus (your posting a picture of that alga is actually what set me off on this message) and E. crispata will not eat the latter species either, perhaps because the filaments are too wide. Anyway, all this will be published shortly in a couple of papers and I¹m sorry for going on and on - but these experiments have made me cautious about what¹s in the literature about algal food of elysiids as this is second time we¹ve been led down a wrong path (the other was that E. chlorotica was supposed to eat Codium, which it does not). Finally, I¹d like to know if Ms. Poddubetskaia found any E. crispata on her trip to the Bahamas. I¹ve been in touch with some of the people at the Stocking Island lab, but they did not know of any there.

Hope all is well.
Sidney K. Pierce
Professor and Chair
Department of Biology
University of South Florida
Tampa, FL 33620


Pierce, S.K., 2004 (Feb 26) Elysia feeding. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from http://www.seaslugforum.net/find/12310

Dear Skip,
Thanks for this timely warning. Concerning sacoglossans changing food, have a look at Brian Brandley's paper on an Elysia in Sydney which changed food three times and was able to keep the plastids from all 3 plants alive and functioning. Unfortunately the reality of finding a 'real' job meant he was never able to follow up this promising research

I am interested to hear of the puzzle of the food of juvenile Elysia crispata. You may have seen a number of aquarium keepers have by luck ended up with thriving populations of baby animals. I have wondered what they were feeding on. Could it be juvenile Bryopsis?

• Brandley, B., 1984. Aspects of the ecology and physiology of Elysia cf. furvacauda (Mollusca: Sacoglossa). Bulletin of Marine Science, 34: 201-219.

Best wishes
Bill Rudman

Rudman, W.B., 2004 (Feb 26). Comment on Elysia feeding by Skip Pierce. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from http://www.seaslugforum.net/find/12310


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