Analysis of gut contents and stable isotope composition of intertidal limpets (Patella vulgata) showed a major contribution of macroalgae to their diet, along with microalgae and invertebrates. Specimens were collected in areas with limited access to attached macroalgae, suggesting a major dietary component of drift algae. Gut contents of 480 animals from 2 moderately wave-exposed and 2 sheltered rocky shores in each of 2 regions (western Scotland, 55-56°N; and southwest England, 50°N), were analysed in 2 years (n = 30 site-1 yr-1). The abundance of microalgae, macroalgae and invertebrates within the guts was quantified using categorical abundance scales. Gut content composition was compared among regions and wave exposure conditions, showing that the diet of P. vulgata changes with both wave exposure and latitude. Microalgae were most abundant in limpet gut contents in animals from southwestern sites, whilst leathery/corticated macroalgae were more prevalent and abundant in limpets from sheltered and northern sites. P. vulgata appears to have a more flexible diet than previously appreciated, and these keystone grazers consume not only microalgae, but also large quantities of macroalgae and small invertebrates. To date, limpet grazing studies have focussed on their role in controlling recruitment of macroalgae by feeding on microscopic propagules and germlings. Consumption of adult algae suggests that P. vulgata may also directly control the biomass of attached macroalgae on the shore, whilst consumption of drift algae indicates that the species may play important roles in coupling subtidal and intertidal production.
Notman, G. M., McGill, R. A. R., Hawkins, S. J., & Burrows, M. T. (2016). Macroalgae contribute to the diet of Patella vulgata from contrasting conditions of latitude and wave exposure in the UK. Marine Ecology-Progress Series, 549, 113-123. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11691