Life cycle and population dynamics of Pycnogonum litorale (Pycnogonida) in a natural habitat
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A natural population of Pycnogonum litorale Ström was examined every 4 weeks over a period of 15 months and thereafter at yearly intervals for 15 years. Adult pycnogonids – mating couples and males carrying egg batches – and freshly hatched protonymphon larvae within these egg batches were found throughout the year. The second, third, and fourth instar larvae were only found from April to July, during the vegetation period of their hydroid host Clava multicornis. After metamorphosis to the fifth instar (first juvenile instar) the pycnogonids have a significantly larger proboscis than during the larval period, and they feed on the sea anemone Metridium senile. First juvenile instars were found on M. senile from May to August. Older and larger juvenile stages were found over longer time spans throughout the year, and the maximum number of successive instars shifted slowly from June to December. Freshly moulted adults occurred throughout the year. Males, which on the average are smaller, usually reach the adult stage during late autumn of the first year and females, at the end of the following spring. We conclude that in nature the development from egg to adult stage is completed within one year. Continuous reproduction and asynchronous embryonic development provide offspring throughout most of the year. The annual cycle is synchronized by the vegetation period of C. multicornis, the only host of these pycnogonid larvae in the investigated habitat, and by the arrest of growth during low winter temperatures. The low level of locomotory activity of P. litorale probably requires an environment in which both host species coexist. The abundance of C. multicornis, M. senile, and juvenile pycnogonids decreased from 1990 to 1996, maybe due to hydrographic conditions.
KeywordsAdult Stage Vegetation Period Late Autumn Larval Period Mating Couple
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