Berghia stephanieae is a stenophagous sea slug that preys upon glass anemones, such as Exaiptasia diaphana. Glass anemones host photosynthetic dinoflagellate endosymbionts that sea slugs ingest when consuming E. diaphana. However, the prevalence of these photosynthetic dinoflagellate endosymbionts in sea slugs appears to be short-lived, particularly if B.stephanieae is deprived of prey that host these microalgae (e.g., during bleaching events impacting glass anemones). In the present study, we investigated this scenario, along with food deprivation, and validated the use of a non-invasive and non-destructive approach employing chlorophyll fluorescence as a proxy to monitor the persistence of the association between sea slugs and endosymbiotic photosynthetic dinoflagellates acquired through the consumption of glass anemones. Berghia stephanieae deprived of a trophic source hosting photosynthetic dinoflagellate endosymbionts (e.g., through food deprivation or by feeding on bleached E. diaphana) showed a rapid decrease in minimum fluorescence (Fo) and photosynthetic efficiency (Fv/Fm) when compared to sea slugs fed with symbiotic anemones. A complete loss of endosymbionts was observed within 8 days, confirming that no true symbiotic association was established. The present work opens a new window of opportunity to rapidly monitor in vivo and over time the prevalence of associations between sea slugs and photosynthetic dinoflagellate endosymbionts, particularly during bleaching events that prevent sea slugs from incorporating new microalgae through trophic interactions.
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