Invertebrate predation on egg masses of the European cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis: an experimental approach.
The eggs of the European cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis, develop attached to the seafloor in shallow water habitats and possess a relatively thick black capsule that protects them from the surrounding environment. Since embryological development may take several months, eggs are vulnerable to a variety of threats present in shallow waters, including predation. This study investigates predation of S. officinalis eggs by benthic invertebrates. Twenty-eight invertebrate species from 6 different phyla and with diverse feeding habits were tested as potential predators under laboratory conditions. We also investigated how the feeding traits of these species are related to the mechanical ability to break the egg capsule and prey upon cuttlefish embryos. Species that fed on cuttlefish eggs were the sea snail Bolinus brandaris, the crab Cancer pagurus, the hermit crab Dardanus arrosor, the lobster Homarus gammarus, the invasive blue crab Callinectes sapidus, the shrimp Squilla mantis, the sea urchins Echinus melo, Cidaris sp. and Paracentrotus lividus and the starfish Astropecten aranciacus. It is of note that C. sapidus is a potential predatory crab, which raises the concern that this invasive species may constitute a novel threat for cuttlefish eggs as more populations become established in NE Atlantic waters. Of the biological traits examined, prey capture tools in the tested species best explained the experimental feeding results, suggesting that predation of S. officinalis eggs was determined generally by a mechanical factor and highlighting the importance of the protective egg capsule against predators. However, chemosensory factors are likely to be implicated as well. Thus, this work contributes to the understanding of the ecology of early life stages of cuttlefish and the factors that can affect offspring survival and subsequently impact the recruitment of this species.