Reproduction, development, growth, and the length of larval life of Phascolosoma turnerae, a wood-dwelling deep-sea sipunculan


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Specimens of the deep-sea sipunculan Phascolosoma turnerae were retrieved over a 5-year period from fibrous collectors placed for various time intervals at a depth of 520 m in the Tongue of the Ocean, Bahamas. Sipunculans removed from the collectors were counted, weighed, and maintained in the laboratory at 14°C, where they were monitored for gametogenic activity, spawning, development, and growth. In a 2-year study of seasonality, worms were most abundant in collectors retrieved in the spring and summer, and least abundant in the fall. Small animals (<0.01 g) were present in all seasons and represented ≥70% of the animals in winter collections. Large specimens (>0.16 g) were found from May through August, but in markedly lower frequencies than small animals. Over the entire study, spawning was observed in the laboratory from April through August. We inferred from analyses of size frequencies, growth, and spawning seasonality that settlement of the larvae occurs primarily from November through April and that oceanic larval life could be as short as 7 months and as long as 12–14 months. Cleavage of fertilized eggs, as observed from laboratory spawnings, was spiral and holoblastic, resulting in a trochophore that transformed into a typical planktotrophic pelagosphera larva at 21 d. A few larvae survived as long as 2 months in the laboratory. This is the first study of biological processes in living sipunculans from the deep sea, and one of the first studies of living deep-sea wood dwellers.