Food of tardigrades: a case study to understand food choice, intake and digestion

Ralph O. Schill, K. Ingemar Jönsson, Martin Pfannkuchen, Franz Brümmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Mosses are an excellent habitat for tardigrades because of their ability to ensure a high humidity and to provide a rich food supply for both carnivorous and herbivorous species. Food choice can be correlated with the morphology of the buccal apparatus, and consequentially, their distribution is sometimes linked to food availability (nematodes, rotifers, plant cells, algae, yeast and bacteria). In many species, material containing chlorophyll is often observed in the midgut. However, little information has been available until now on the actual food preference of tardigrades. Since trophic interactions within soil food webs are difficult to study, here we use a polymerase chain reaction–based approach as a highly sensitive detection method. The study was carried out to investigate the presence of chlorophyll matter in the gut of active specimens, based on sequence analyses of the chloroplast ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase large subunit (rbcL) gene from mosses and algae. The sequences found in the gut of Macrobiotus sapiens were derived from the moss families Pottiaceae and Erpodiaceae, in Macrobiotus persimilis and Echiniscus granulatus from the moss family Grimmiaceae, and in Richtersius coronifer from the green algae genus Trebouxia. Furthermore, we show the emission of green autofluorescence from the chloroplasts in the algae within the gut of tardigrades and followed the progress of digestion over a 48-h period. The autofluorescent emission level declined significantly, and after 2 days, the signal level was similar to the level of the starved control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-70
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research
Issue numberSuppl. 1
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • Ecology (10611)
  • Microbiology (10606)


  • Algae
  • diagnostic PCR
  • gut-content analysis
  • invertebrate
  • moss
  • predation


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