Kleptopredation: a mechanism to facilitate planktivory in a benthic mollusc

Trevor John Willis, Kimberly Berglof, Rona McGill, Luigi Musco, Stefano Piraino, Claire Rumsey, Tomas Vega Fernandez, Fabio Badalamenti

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Predation occurs when an organism completely or partially consumes its prey. Partial consumption is typical of herbivores but is also common in some marine microbenthic carnivores that feed on colonial organisms. Associations between nudibranch molluscs and colonial hydroids have long been assumed to be simple predator-prey relationships. Here we show that while the aeolid nudibranch Cratena peregrina does prey directly on the hydranths of Eudendrium racemosum, it is stimulated to feed when hydranths have captured and are handling prey, thus ingesting recently captured plankton along with the hydroid polyp such that plankton form at least half of the nudibranch diet. The nudibranch is thus largely planktivorous, facilitated by use of the hydroid for prey capture. At the scale of the colony this combines predation with kleptoparasitism, a type of competition that involves the theft of already-procured items, with predation to form a feeding mode that does not fit into existing classifications, which we term kleptopredation. This strategy of subsidised predation helps explain how obligate-feeding nudibranchs obtain sufficient energy for reproduction from an ephemeral food source.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20170447
JournalBiology Letters
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • planktivory
  • Cratena peregrina
  • stable isotopes
  • predation
  • kleptopredation
  • Eudendrium racemosum


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