Documenting the association between a non-geniculate coralline red alga and its molluscan host
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To further investigate the strength of the association and the relative advantages of the association to both organisms, several manipulation experiments were set up. A cage experiment set up in the shallow subtidal zone showed that the coralline survived equally well without the winkle and did therefore not require the winkle or its empty shell for survival. A second controlled laboratory aquarium experiment was designed under both fluorescent (rich in blue light) and incandescent light (rich in red light) to ascertain whether the coralline had a preference for O. sinensis over the similar O. tigrina. This experiment was inconclusive as no recruitment was obtained under either of the light regimes. A third laboratory experiment was designed to determine whether the extra coralline weight had any possible advantage to the winkle, particularly against predation from the rock lobster Jasus lalandii. Results suggested that there were no apparent advantages to the winkle bearing the extra coralline load as adult O. sinensis bearing the coralline alga (3.7 ± 2.2 winkles 24hr-1) were equally prone to predation than those lacking the coralline (2.3 ± 1.9 winkles 24hr-1) (p = 0.184). Observations suggested instead that the convoluted nature of the coralline may indeed have promoted predation. We ultimately deduced that the high occurrence of the coralline on the shells of O. sinensis was probably due to the substantial overlap in the niches of the two organisms. This conclusion was supported by the high densities of juvenile O. sinensis combined with the high percent cover abundance of the coralline in intertidal rockpools. Understanding sexual reproduction in coralline algae as well as the life cycle of the winkle, ultimately provided insight into the postulated life cycle of this coralline-winkle association.