High photosynthetic plasticity may reinforce invasiveness of upside-down zooxanthellate jellyfish in Mediterranean coastal waters.
Ecological profiling of non-native species is essential to predict their dispersal and invasiveness potential across different areas of the world. Cassiopea is a monophyletic taxonomic group of scyphozoan mixotrophic jellyfish including C. andromeda, a recent colonizer of sheltered, shallow-water habitats of the Mediterranean Sea, such as harbors and other light-limited, eutrophic coastal habitats. To assess the ecophysiological plasticity of Cassiopea jellyfish and their potential to spread across the Mare Nostrum by secondary introductions, we investigated rapid photosynthetic responses of jellyfish to irradiance transitions-from reduced to increased irradiance conditions (as paradigm of transition from harbors to coastal, meso/oligotrophic habitats). Laboratory incubation experiments were carried out to compare oxygen fluxes and photobiological variables in Cassiopea sp. immature specimens pre-acclimated to low irradiance (PAR=200 μmol photons m-2 s-1) and specimens rapidly exposed to higher irradiance levels (PAR=500 μmol photons m-2 s-1). Comparable photosynthetic potential and high photosynthetic rates were measured at both irradiance values, as also shown by the rapid light curves. No significant differences were observed in terms of symbiont abundance between control and treated specimens. However, jellyfish kept at the low irradiance showed a higher content in chlorophyll a and c (0.76±0.51SD vs 0.46±0.13SD mg g-1 AFDW) and a higher Ci (amount of chlorophyll per cell) compared to jellyfish exposed to higher irradiance levels. The ratio between gross photosynthesis and respiration (P:R) was >1, indicating a significant input from the autotrophic metabolism. Cassiopea sp. specimens showed high photosynthetic performances, at both low and high irradiance, demonstrating high potential to adapt to sudden changes in light exposure. Such photosynthetic plasticity, combined with Cassiopea eurythermal tolerance and mixotrophic behavior, jointly suggest the upside-down jellyfish as a potentially successful invader in the scenario of a warming Mediterranean Sea.