Newly metamorphosedElysia clarkijuveniles feed on and sequester chloroplasts from algal species different from those utilized by adult slugs

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The adult, sacoglossan sea slug, Elysia clarki (Pierce et al. in Molluscan Res 26, 2006), sequesters functional chloroplasts in cells of the digestive diverticula from four species of macroalgae in the order Bryopsidales (Penicillus capitatus, Penicillus lamourouxii, Halimeda incrassata, and Halimeda monile). Feeding experiments were conducted in December, 2003, using individuals raised in the laboratory from egg masses laid by E. clarki adults which had been collected from Grassy Key, Florida, USA, and 29 species of macroalgae collected from the Florida Keys, Tampa Bay, Tarpon Springs, Florida, or Woods Hole, Massachusetts or obtained from the Culture Collection of Algae at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas. For the first 14-day post-metamorphosis, juveniles ate only the thin filamentous species, Bryopsis plumosa or Derbesia tenuissima. Transmission electron microscopy showed that the chloroplasts from both algae were sequestered intracellularly in juvenile slugs. Individuals offered any other macroalga, including the four species fed on by adults, did not feed on or incorporate any chloroplasts, and soon died. Juveniles switched from B. plumosa to P. capitatus at a length of ˜ 1.0 cm, and fixed for microscopy 14 days later had intact intracellular chloroplasts from both algae. Nucleotide sequences of the chloroplast gene, rbcL, from DNA extracted from E. clarki, collected from Vaca Key, Florida, were aligned with 22 other available macroalgal rbcL sequences indicating that these E. clarki adults had fed on three species of algae in the Bryopsidales including Bryopsis pennata, and TEM results partially confirmed this conclusion.

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