Crepidula Slipper Limpets Alter Sex Change in Response to Physical Contact with Conspecifics
Chemical signaling, especially signaling with waterborne cues, is an important mode of communication between conspecifics of aquatic organisms. Although conspecific associations play an important role in sex allocation of sequential hermaphroditic slipper limpets, the mode of signaling is unknown. We tested the hypothesis that the effects of conspecifics on animal size and time of sex change in the tropical slipper limpet Crepidula cf. marginalis are mediated by waterborne cues. In our experiment, pairs of snails (one small and one large) were kept in cups, either together or partitioned off with fine or coarse mesh, or partitioned, but switched from side to side to allow contact with the cup mate’s pedal mucus. The larger snails that were allowed contact with the smaller companions grew faster, and generally changed sex sooner, than did the larger snails in the barrier treatments, which allowed no physical contact. The smaller snails that were allowed contact with the larger cup mate delayed sex change compared to those separated from their cup mates. We were, therefore, able to reject the hypothesis that waterborne cues mediate communication between these snails. Our results suggest that the cue that affects size and time to sex change requires some kind of physical interaction that is lost when the snails are separated. Furthermore, contact with another snail’s pedal mucus does not compensate for the loss of physical contact. Since males often attach to the shell of larger females, direct contact may mediate this kind of physical interaction via positional information, physical stimulation, or contact-based chemical communication. Whatever the cue, contact with conspecifics influences both partners, resulting in, surprisingly, a higher growth rate in the larger animal and delayed sex change in the smaller animal.