Kleptoplast photosynthesis is nutritionally relevant in the sea slug Elysia viridis

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Scientific Reports, 2017, 7 (1)
Issue Date:
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Several sacoglossan sea slug species feed on macroalgae and incorporate chloroplasts into tubular cells of their digestive diverticula. We investigated the role of the "stolen" chloroplasts (kleptoplasts) in the nutrition of the sea slug Elysia viridis and assessed how their abundance, distribution and photosynthetic activity were affected by light and starvation. Elysia viridis individuals feeding on the macroalga Codium tomentosum were compared with starved specimens kept in dark and low light conditions. A combination of variable Chl a fluorescence and hyperspectral imaging, and HPLC pigment analysis was used to evaluate the spatial and temporal variability of photopigments and of the photosynthetic capacity of kleptoplasts. We show increased loss of weight and body length in darkstarved E. viridis as compared to low light-starved sea slugs. A more pronounced decrease in kleptoplast abundance and lower photosynthetic electron transport rates were observed in dark-starved sea slugs than in low light-starved animals. This study presents strong evidence of the importance of kleptoplast photosynthesis for the nutrition of E. viridis in periods of food scarcity. Deprived of photosynthates, E. viridis could accelerate the breakdown of kleptoplasts in the dark to satisfy its' energy requirements.
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