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Keywords:

  • Adriatic Sea;
  • anthozoans;
  • filter-feeders;
  • parthenogenesis;
  • seasonal cycles;
  • water temperature

Abstract

The life cycle of the stoloniferan Cornularia cornucopiae (Pallas, 1766) (Anthozoa: Octocorallia) was studied from March 2009 to October 2010 on the rocky cliff of the Conero Promontory (North Adriatic Sea, 43°34.865′ N, 13°34.320′ E). In this area the species showed unusual high densities never recorded in other sites of the Mediterranean Sea. The density trend of the species showed a marked seasonal cycle, with a winter minimum of about 1000 polyps m−2 and a summer maximum of about 30,000 polyps m−2. In accordance with other Mediterranean literature data, polyps were fertile during spring–summer, from March to August, but the number of eggs per polyp continuously decreased during this span of time. Variations of polyp density were strongly correlated to water temperature, which can be considered the main environmental factor triggering this seasonal behaviour. The possibility, for C. cornucopiae, to face adverse winter conditions is probably related to the presence of a characteristic perisarcal envelope covering the stolon and the calyx of each polyp, which isolates the living tissues from the exterior. During winter, polyps degenerate but the stolons remain dormant inside their envelopes. The perisarc covering represents a morphological convergence of C. cornucopiae with benthic hydrozoans. As the latter, the studied stoloniferans are able to live in habitats characterized by periodic favourable conditions thanks to a seasonal life strategy. A similar trend is shared also by other important components (cnidarians and some sponges) of the filter-feeding community of the North Adriatic Sea. Differently to the Western Mediterranean basin, this area is characterized by high food availability all year around, so benthic organisms are strongly constrained by the very low winter temperatures.