The Journal of experimental biology

One rhinophore probably provides sufficient sensory input for odour-based navigation by the nudibranch mollusc Tritonia diomedea.

PMID 25324338


Tritonia diomedea (synonymous with Tritonia tetraquetra) navigates in turbulent odour plumes, crawling upstream towards prey and downstream to avoid predators. This is probably accomplished by odour-gated rheotaxis, but other possibilities have not been excluded. Our goal was to test whether T. diomedea uses odour-gated rheotaxis and to simultaneously determine which of the cephalic sensory organs (rhinophores and oral veil) are required for navigation. In a first experiment, slugs showed no coherent responses to streams of odour directed at single rhinophores. In a second experiment, navigation in prey and predator odour plumes was compared between animals with unilateral rhinophore lesions, denervated oral veils, or combined unilateral rhinophore lesions and denervated oral veils. In all treatments, animals navigated in a similar manner to that of control and sham-operated animals, indicating that a single rhinophore provides sufficient sensory input for navigation (assuming that a distributed flow measurement system would also be affected by the denervations). Amongst various potential navigational strategies, only odour-gated positive rheotaxis can produce the navigation tracks we observed in prey plumes while receiving input from a single sensor. Thus, we provide strong evidence that T. diomedea uses odour-gated rheotaxis in attractive odour plumes, with odours and flow detected by the rhinophores. In predator plumes, slugs turned downstream to varying degrees rather than orienting directly downstream for crawling, resulting in greater dispersion for negative rheotaxis in aversive plumes. These conclusions are the first explicit confirmation of odour-gated rheotaxis as a navigational strategy in gastropods and are also a foundation for exploring the neural circuits that mediate odour-gated rheotaxis.