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Keywords:

  • Opisthobranchia;
  • Acochlidia;
  • anatomy;
  • 3D reconstruction;
  • phylogeny;
  • microanatomy

Abstract

Phylogenetic analysis of the highly enigmatic and aberrant acochlidian opisthobranch gastropods is mainly hindered by the lack of reliable anatomical data. Due to their small size, marine interstitial acochlidian species are not suitable for anatomical investigations by dissecting. The tinyness and complexity of, e.g., opisthobranch central nervous and reproductive systems make data derived from older paraffin-based histology and interpretation by hand-based graphical reconstruction questionable. In a former study, a hermaphroditic member of the basal acochlidian genus Hedylopsis (“Hedylopsacea”) has been examined in detail. The present study uses the gonochoric Microhedyle remanei (Microhedylidae) as a model organism of the other traditional major acochlidian subgroup, the “Microhedylacea.” More than 20 specimens with up to 2 mm body length were extracted from coarse subtidal sand near Castle Roads, Bermuda Islands. Their central nervous, digestive, circulatory, excretory, and genital systems were reconstructed three-dimensionally from serial semithin histological sections using AMIRA software. The radula was analyzed by SEM. Our specimens closely resemble the original description of M. remanei (Marcus, 1953; as Unela) from Brazil; apparent differences regarding the number of visceral loop ganglia or details of male genitalia are assumed to be due to oversights by the former author or because of different ontogenetic stages. Microhedyle remanei differs from all congeners due to the lack (vs. presence) of eyes; further distinguishing features are discussed. In contrast to members of the hedylopsacean Hedylopsidae, Acochlidiidae, and Tantulidae, M. remanei shows a nervous system with numerous precerebral accessory “ganglia” that are not differentiated into cortex and medulla. While all Microhedylidae previously were thought to lack a heart, M. remanei shows a two-chambered heart, as is usual for opisthobranchs. The oocytes of M. remanei are yolky and large in relation to body size and suggest intracapsular larval development. A comparative microanatomical discussion and the distribution of characters within acochlidian taxa indicate that the current classification of the Acochlidia does not reflect phylogenetic relationships. Detailed structural investigations on further poorly known species are required; the computer-based 3D reconstruction of semithin serial sections with AMIRA is shown to be an ideal tool for efficient analysis and presentation of the microanatomy of small specimens. J. Morphol. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.