Burrowing dynamics and energy cost of transport in the soft-bodied marine invertebrates Polyphysia crassa and Priapulus caudatus



The dynamics and mechanical forces generated during burrowing in Polyphysia crassa (Annelida: Polychaeta) and Priapulus caudatus (Priapulida) were investigated. Both animals live in soft marine muds and burrow by utilizing a direct peristaltic wave alternating with a high internal pressure event which thrusts the anterior part of the body into the substratum. Forces generated during the various phases of a typical burrowing cycle were measured in animals moving beneath the natural substratum at 5±3 °C using electronic transducers and recorder. During ‘head’ advance Polyphysia generated 0.027 N, and during ‘tail’ advance 0.020 N, with peak internal pressures averaging 0.95 kPa (= 0.095 N/cm2). Force by Priapulus during head advance and tail advance was 0.081 N and 0.121 N, respectively, with peak internal pressures averaging 2.47 kPa (= 0.247 N/cm2). Polyphysia moves more slowly (0.24 cm/min) than does Priapulus (0.76 cm/min) and expends more energy on mass moved per unit distance. These force measurements during a burrowing cycle were used in place of respirometry as a basis for computation of net cost of transport (NCT) for each animal. NCT for Polyphysia was 635 J kg-1 m-1 and for Priapulus was 314Jkg-1m-l. Cost of transport for all burrowing animals thus far investigated is high compared to swimming, running and flying. For soft-bodied invertebrates that live an entirely buried existence this high cost must be interpreted in the broader context of the adaptive value of infaunal life, especially protection against predation, and not as simply a means of moving about.