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Effects of the oophagous bivalve Acesta oophaga on the morphology and fecundity of its deep-sea tubeworm host, Lamellibrachia luymesi



The deep-sea bivalve Acesta oophaga lives attached to the anterior end of the vestimentiferan tubeworm, Lamellibrachia luymesi, at cold methane seeps. The bivalve is found almost exclusively on female tubeworms, where it consumes the lipid-rich eggs of L. luymesi that are spawned year round (Biological Bulletin, 209, 2005, 87). It is apparent that A. oophaga benefits directly from this close association, but the consequences for the tubeworm host may be more complicated than just a simple predator–prey interaction. Since A. oophaga completely surrounds the tube opening and plume of the worm, it is likely that its presence would limit oxygen uptake by L. luymesi, thereby inhibiting worm growth and reproduction. We hypothesized that occupied tubeworms would compensate for this by growing larger plumes for oxygen uptake. To explore the effects of bivalve presence/absence on female tubeworms, several morphological features, including body size, plume length, tube diameter, and tube segment length, as well as instantaneous fecundity, were compared. Results suggest that the mere presence of A. oophaga has a significant impact on the morphology of its host worm, as all measures of worm size, except for tube segment length, were significantly greater with clams present. Additionally, instantaneous fecundity was 3.5 times higher in occupied worms, implying that tubeworms are not oxygen-deprived or energy limited as a result of bivalve presence. Our findings suggest that the association between these two deep-sea organisms may be a more complex form of symbiosis than the simple predator–prey relationship, as previously thought.