How does temperature affect functional kleptoplasty? Comparing populations of the solar-powered sister-species Elysia timida Risso, 1818 and Elysia cornigera Nuttall, 1989 (Gastropoda: Sacoglossa)

Elise Marie Jerschabek Laetz*, Heike Waegele

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Despite widespread interest in solar-powered sea slugs (Sacoglossa: Gastropoda), relatively little is know about how they actually perform functional kleptoplasty. Sister-taxa Elysia timida and E. cornigera provide an ideal model system for investigating this phenomenon, since they feed on the same algal genus and only E. timida is capable of long-term kleptoplasty. Recent research has explored factors regarding functional kleptoplasty in E. timida, including their starvation longevity, digestive activity, autophagal response and photosynthetic efficiency under two different temperature conditions (18 degrees C and 21 degrees C). These studies revealed the trends E. timida displays regarding each factor during starvation as well as influences temperature has on some aspects of functional kleptoplasty. This study examines E. cornigera regarding each of these factors in an attempt to elucidate differences between each species that could explain their differing kleptoplastic abilities. Since both species naturally occur in 25 degrees C seawater (E. timida peak summer temperature, E. cornigera low winter temperature), each species was acclimatized to 25 degrees C to facilitate comparison and determine if these species exhibit physiological differences to starvation when under the same environmental conditions.

Results: When comparing the different E. timida temperature treatments, it becomes clear that increased temperatures compromise E. timida's kleptoplastic abilities. Specimens acclimatized to 25 degrees C revealed shorter starvation longevities surviving an average 42.4 days compared to the 95.9 day average observed in specimens exposed to 18 degrees C. Each temperature treatment displayed a significantly different decrease throughout the starvation period in both, the rate of photosynthetic efficiency and in the decreasing functional kleptoplast abundance. Lysosomal abundances are assessed here as indicators of different aspects of metabolic activity, which could be correlated to temperature. E. cornigera, also acclimatized to 25 degrees C did not display significantly similar patterns as any of the E. timida temperature treatments, having fewer incorporated kleptoplasts, a higher lysosomal response to starvation, a faster decrease in photosynthetic efficiency and a lower starvation longevity.

Conclusions: These results confirm that each species has different physiological reactions to starvation and kleptoplast retention, even under the same conditions. While temperature affects aspects of functional kleptoplasty, it is likely not responsible for the differences in kleptoplastic abilities seen in these species.

Original languageEnglish
Article number17
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Publication statusPublished - 24-Apr-2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Kleptoplasty
  • Elysia
  • Intracellular digestion
  • Endosymbiosis
  • Sacoglossa


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