Sea anemones and brittle stars: unexpected predatory interactions during induced in situ oxygen crises

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Abstract

During oxygen crises, benthic faunas exhibit a series of behavioural patterns that reflect the duration and severity of the event. During artificially induced oxygen deficiencies at 24 m depth in the Northern Adriatic Sea, we photographically documented predation by the sea anemones Cereus pedunculatus (Pennant, 1777) and Calliactis parasitica (Couch, 1842) on the brittle star Ophiothrix quinquemaculata (DelleChiaje, 1828). Five predatory events were recorded with four anemones during nine deployments totalling 817 h of observation. Under near-anoxic conditions, individuals of both actinians made contact with, pulled in and consumed the brittle stars. The duration of each predatory event was 1.5–7.5 h. In three of the five events, brittle star remains were regurgitated after an additional 2.0–12.5 h of digestion by the anemones. Our time-lapse sequences demonstrate that oxygen deficiency, beyond eliciting a series of specific behaviours in members of each species, also promotes previously unobserved interspecific interactions. Our results show that sea anemones are not only highly resistant to anoxia, but may also benefit by taking advantage of prey that are more vulnerable to anoxic conditions.

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