Effects of maternal investment on larvae and juveniles of the annelid Capitella teleta determined by experimental reduction of embryo energy content


Author for correspondence. E-mail: bruno.pernet@csulb.edu


Experimental manipulations of the energy content of marine invertebrate embryos have been useful in testing key assumptions of life history theory, especially those concerning relationships between egg size, length of the planktonic period, and juvenile size and quality. However, methods for such “allometric engineering” experiments have been available for only a limited set of taxa (those with regulative early development, e.g., cnidarians and echinoderms). Here, we describe a method for the reduction of embryo energy content in the spirally cleaving embryos of a marine annelid, Capitella teleta, by targeted deletion of endodermal precursor cells. Embryos of C. teleta in which up to three cells (the macromeres 3A, 3B, and 3C) were deleted formed morphologically normal lecithotrophic larvae that were much smaller than larvae developing from control embryos. Experimental larvae metamorphosed at high rates, forming juveniles that were smaller than control juveniles. Juveniles derived from treated embryos had functional midguts, ingested and digested food, and grew into sexually mature adults. These results are consistent with those from previous allometric engineering studies of echinoid echinoderms, which suggest that in facultatively planktotrophic or lecithotrophic species, little maternally derived energy is used for construction of the larval body; instead, the majority is allocated to the formation of a large, high-quality juvenile. Cleavage programs are highly conserved among divergent spiralian taxa (e.g., molluscs, nemerteans, and platyhelminths), so this method will likely be applicable to a diverse set of embryos. Similar experiments carried out in these diverse taxa will be extremely useful for evaluating inferences on relationships between egg size, length of the planktonic period, and juvenile size and quality previously based only on experiments on echinoid echinoderms.