Plasticity in the antipredator behavior of the orange-footed sea cucumber under shifting hydrodynamic forces

Wilson, David R. and Brown, Nicholas A. W. and Gagnon, Patrick (2019) Plasticity in the antipredator behavior of the orange-footed sea cucumber under shifting hydrodynamic forces. Current Zoology, 65 (6). pp. 685-695. ISSN 1674-5507

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Marine invertebrates that move too slowly to evade unfavorable environmental change may instead exhibit phenotypic plasticity, allowing them to adjust to varying conditions. The orange-footed sea cucumber Cucumaria frondosa is a slow-moving suspension feeder that is preyed on by the purple sunstar Solaster endeca. The sea cucumber’s antipredator behavior involves changing shape and detaching from the substratum, which might increase its probability of being displaced by water motion into an unsuitable environment. We hypothesized that sea cucumbers’ antipredator responses would be diminished under stronger hydrodynamic forces, and that behavioral strategies would be flexible so that individuals could adjust to frequent changes in water flows. In a natural orange-footed sea cucumber habitat, individuals lived along a pronounced hydrodynamic gradient, allowing us to measure antipredator behavior under different water flow strengths. We placed purple sunstars in physical contact with sea cucumbers living at various points along the gradient to elicit antipredator responses. We then repeated this procedure in a laboratory mesocosm that generated weak and strong hydrodynamic forces similar to those observed at the field site. Subjects in the mesocosm experiment were tested in both wave conditions to determine if their antipredator behavior would change in response to sudden environmental change, as would be experienced under deteriorating sea conditions. Antipredator responses did not covary with hydrodynamic forces in the field. However, antipredator responses in the mesocosm experiment increased when individuals were transplanted from strong to weak forces and decreased when transplanted from weak to strong forces. Overall, our results indicate environmentally induced plasticity in the antipredator behavior of the orange-footed sea cucumber.

Item Type: Article
Item ID: 14494
Keywords: behavioral plasticity, benthic invertebrate, predator–prey interaction, reciprocal transplant experiment, Solaster endeca, wave environment
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Psychology
Science, Faculty of > Psychology
Date: December 2019
Date Type: Publication
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