The Journal of experimental biology

Chemical cues from fish heighten visual sensitivity in larval crabs through changes in photoreceptor structure and function.

PMID 26538174


Several predator avoidance strategies in zooplankton rely on the use of light to control vertical position in the water column. Although light is the primary cue for such photobehavior, predator chemical cues or kairomones increase swimming responses to light. We currently lack a mechanistic understanding for how zooplankton integrate visual and chemical cues to mediate phenotypic plasticity in defensive photobehavior. In marine systems, kairomones are thought to be amino sugar degradation products of fish body mucus. Here, we demonstrate that increasing concentrations of fish kairomones heightened sensitivity of light-mediated swimming behavior for two larval crab species (Rhithropanopeus harrisii and Hemigrapsus sanguineus). Consistent with these behavioral results, we report increased visual sensitivity at the retinal level in larval crab eyes directly following acute (1-3 h) kairomone exposure, as evidenced electrophysiologically from V-log I curves and morphologically from wider, shorter rhabdoms. The observed increases in visual sensitivity do not correspond with a decline in temporal resolution, because latency in electrophysiological responses actually increased after kairomone exposure. Collectively, these data suggest that phenotypic plasticity in larval crab photobehavior is achieved, at least in part, through rapid changes in photoreceptor structure and function.