Life cycle strategy, species richness and distribution in marine Hydrozoa (Cnidaria: Medusozoa)


Mark J. Gibbons, Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, University of the Western Cape, Private Bag X17, Bellville 7535, South Africa.


Aim  Using the genus as the unit of analysis, we examine the relationship between richness, distribution and life cycle strategy for all currently recognized marine Hydrozoa.

Location  The global marine environment.

Methods  A global dataset detailing the number of species per genus and the mean date of first description (as a proxy for geographic range size) per genus was assembled for all currently recognized marine Hydrozoa. Differences in means per genus were examined by dominant life cycle strategy (holoplanktic, meroplanktic and benthic) using nonparametric ANOVA and resampling methods.

Results  By comparison with benthic taxa, holopelagic genera are (on average) significantly less species rich and were described at a significantly earlier date. Taxa with meroplanktic life cycles have a richness and a date of first description that is mid-way between the two extremes.

Main conclusions  Following from previous work showing that there is a negative relationship between the date of first description and geographic range size, our data indicate that holopelagic taxa not only have fewer species per genus but also have a wider distribution than benthic taxa. These quantitative results are in agreement with long-standing intuitions, and should be applicable to other taxa. They run counter to some recent genetic observations that suggest taxa having planktic larvae might nevertheless show restricted distributions; we argue that this inference reflects a lack of sampling of holopelagic taxa, and a call is made to provide empirical evidence from this realm.