Tackling the Sulfide Gradient: A Novel Strategy Involving Marine Nematodes and Chemoautotrophic Ectosymbionts



Abstract. The Stilbonemutinue (marine free-living nematodes) arc remarkable for cctosymbiotic bacteria, which cover the greatest part of their body in a highly ordered and species specific pattern. Using SEM we describe the main types of symbiotic cover and give evidence for the role of the bacteria in the nutrition of their host on the basis of stable carbon isotope ratios. In experimental systems the worms migrated repeatedly across a sulfide gradient during 12 h when sulfide concentrations were low, but stayed above the sulfide maximum at high concentrations. The migration across the chemocline exposes the symbionts alternately to reduced sulfur compounds and oxygen; this constitutes an alternative strategy to the ventilation/circulation systems in symbiotic macrofauna from sulfidic habitats.