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Crustaceans help fertilize seaweeds, study finds

Animal role in algae fertilization identified
The tiny crustacean Idotea balthica facilitates male gamete dispersal and fertilization in debt alga Gracilaria gracilis. They utilize the densely branched, bushy red algae for shelter and prey on microalgae that grow on the surface. Credit: Wilfried Thomas @Station Biologique de Roscoff, CNRS, SU, Roscoff, France

The key role of insects in the pollination of flowering plants established fact, but algal fertilization assisted by marine animals was hitherto deemed non-existent. A team led by way of a CNRS researcher from the Franco-Chilean Evolutionary Biology and Ecology of Algae research unit at Roscoff Marine Station has found that small crustaceans referred to as idoteas donate to the reproductive cycle of the red alga Gracilaria gracilis. The scientists’ findings are published in Science. They claim that animal-mediated fertilization is a lot over the age of once thought.

Are sea animals mixed up in reproductive cycle of algae, like pollinating insects on dry land? Dispersal of the male gametes, or spermatia, of red algae generally depends on , or more as yet, scientists didn’t recognize the role played by animals.

Yet a global team led by Myriam Valero, a CNRS scientist associated with the Evolutionary Biology and Ecology of Algae research unit (CNRS / Pontificia Universidad Catlica de Chile / Sorbonne University / Universidad Austral de Chile) and Roscoff Marine Station (CNRS / Sorbonne University), has revealed that tiny marine creatures called idoteas become “sea bees” for the red alga Gracilaria gracilis.

This video shows the aquarium containing males (on the left) and females (on the proper) of G. gracilis with I. balthica. The isopods of different sizes are foraging on the seaweed. Many of them are difficult to see because they are firmly gripped onto the algae, and spermatia can thus deposit on the setae of these pereiopods. Credit: IRL 3614, Station Biologique de Roscoff, CNRS, SU, Roscoff, France

Idoteas donate to the fertilization of G. gracilis because they swim amid these algae. The surfaces of the male algae are dotted with reproductive structures that produce spermatia coated with mucilage, a sticky substance. Being an idotea passes by, the spermatia abide by its cuticle and so are then deposited on the thalli of any female alga the crustacean makes connection with, thus helping G. gracilis reproduction.

But idoteas also stand to benefit in this arrangement. The gives them room and board: idotea cling to the algae as a protection from strong currents, plus they chew on small organisms growing on the thalli. That is a good example of a mutualistic interactiona win-win situation for plant and animal alikeand the very first time an interaction of the kind between a seaweed and an animal has been observed.

While these initial findings usually do not indicate the extent to which animal transport of gametes plays a part in algal fertilization in accordance with the role of water movementpreviously regarded as the sole method of gamete dispersalthey do offer surprising insight in to the origin of animal-mediated fertilization of plants. Before this discovery, the latter was assumed to possess emerged among terrestrial plants 140 million years back. Red algae arose over 800 million years back and their fertilization via animal intermediaries may long predate the foundation of pollination on land. Valero’s team now try to focus on other questions: Do idoteas trigger the release of spermatia? Are they in a position to distinguish male G. gracilis from female individuals? & most importantly, do similar interactions exist between other marine species?

More info: E. Lavaut et al, Pollinators of the ocean: A discovery of animal-mediated fertilization in seaweed, Science (2022). DOI: 10.1126/science.abo6661.

Jeff Ollerton et al, Did pollination exist before plants?, Science (2022). DOI: 10.1126/science.add3198.

Citation: Crustaceans help fertilize seaweeds, study finds (2022, July 28) retrieved 29 July 2022 from

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