Salps (pelagic tunicates) are rarely observed in nature and trophic interactions involving them mainly rely on the inspection of stomach contents of their potential predators. Moreover, salps have soft bodies that are hardly identified in potential consumers. We involved recreational SCUBA-divers and photographers in collecting de visu evidence of i) massive occurrence of salps and ii) trophic interactions involving salps as preys and benthic animals as consumers. Direct evidence of trophic interactions between salps and benthic fish was documented by photographic frames. We detected a long colony of the salp Pegea confaederata being transported by currents close to the substrate on top of Banco di Santa Croce, an underwater rocky outcrop in the Gulf of Naples (Italy). An individual of the rainbow wrasse Coris julis attacked the above-mentioned salp colony by selectively detaching individuals and biting their stomach. Our report of a trophic interaction between labrids and salps is the second in fifty years and the previous one was only indirect. In this study, citizen science allowed detecting both neglected marine animals like salps and trophic interactions involving them. Visual, direct evidence of predation on salps by benthic fish adds further knowledge about patterns of living-matter fluxes between plankton and benthos, opening new questions on the potential of global change in modifying the efficient circulation of organic matter in marine systems.
Plankton; benthos; labrids; salps; marine food-webs; coastal systems; citizen science.