A novel mode of colony formation in a hydrozoan through fusion of sexually generated individuals

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Abstract

Coloniality, as displayed by most hydrozoans, is thought to confer a size advantage in substrate-limited benthic marine environments and affects nearly every aspect of a species' ecology and evolution [1,2]. Hydrozoan colonies normally develop through asexual budding of polyps that remain interconnected by continuous epithelia. The clade Aplanulata is unique in that it comprises mostly solitary species, including the model organism Hydra, with only a few colonial species [3,4]. We reconstruct a multigene phylogeny to trace the evolution of coloniality in Aplanulata, revealing that the ancestor of Aplanulata was solitary and that coloniality was regained in the genus Ectopleura. Examination of Ectopleura larynx development reveals a unique type of colony formation never before described in Hydrozoa, in that colonies form through sexual reproduction followed by epithelial fusion of offspring polyps to adults. We characterize the expression of manacle, a gene involved in foot development in Hydra [5], to determine polyp-colony boundaries. Our results suggest that stalks beneath the neck do not have polyp identity and instead are specialized structures that interconnect polyps. Epithelial fusion, brooding behavior, and the presence of a skeleton were all key factors behind the evolution of this novel pathway to coloniality in Ectopleura. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

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Nawrocki, A. M., & Cartwright, P. (2012). A novel mode of colony formation in a hydrozoan through fusion of sexually generated individuals. Current Biology, 22(9), 825–829. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2012.03.026

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