Nudibranch predation and dietary preference for the polyps of Aurelia labiata (Cnidaria: Scyphozoa)
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There is concern that jellyfish blooms may be increasing worldwide. Some factors controlling population size, such as temperature and food, often have been studied; however, the importance of predators is poorly known. Aeolid nudibranchs feed on cnidarians, but their predation on the benthic polyps of scyphozoan rarely has been documented. To understand the potential of nudibranchs to consume polyps, we tested several predation preference hypotheses with the generalist feeding nudibranch, Hermissenda crassicornis, and polyps of the common moon jellyfish, Aurelia labiata. Of the six prey species tested during feeding experiments, A. labiata polyps and the tunicate Distaplia occidentalis were significantly preferred. Nudibranch size, diurnal cycle, and ingestive conditioning did not significantly influence prey choice. Nudibranchs showed significant positive chemotaxis toward living polyps, hydroids, and tunicates, but not to sea anemones. Nudibranch chemotaxis was significantly more positive to polar extract of A. labiata than of D. occidentalis. Consumption of polyps was correlated with nudibranch size, with mean consumption by large nudibranchs (>0.92 g) of about 31 polyps h−1. Three other nudibranch species also ate A. labiata polyps. Our results emphasize the potential importance of predation for controlling jellyfish benthic polyp populations and consequent jellyfish blooms.
KeywordsJellyfish Predator Selection Hydroid Tunicate Sea anemone Chemotaxis
The authors thank the director and staff of Shannon Point Marine Center for supplying the facilities, equipment, and support to make this study possible, the Charles and June Ross Foundation and the Biology Department of Western Washington University for their financial support, Dr. Brian Bingham for advice concerning experimental design, and Nathan Schwarck for his support and friendship throughout. This research was funded in part by National Science Foundation ADVANCE Fellows Award OCE-0137419 and Research Experiences for Undergraduates program NSF 09-598.
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