Annual reversible plasticity of feeding structures: cyclical changes of jaw allometry in a sea urchin Public Deposited

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  • A wide variety of organisms show morphologically plastic responses to environmental stressors but in general these changes are not reversible. Though less common, reversible morphological structures are shown by a range of species in response to changes in predators, competitors, or food. Theoretical analysis indicates that reversible plasticity increases fitness if organisms are long-lived relative to the frequency of changes in the stressor and morphological changes are rapid. Many sea urchin species show differences in the sizes of jaws (demi-pyramids) of the feeding apparatus, Aristotle's lantern, relative to over-all body size, and these differences have been correlated with available food. The question addressed here is whether reversible changes of relative jaw size occur in the field as available food changes with season. Monthly samples of the North American Pacific coast sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus were collected from Gregory Point on the Oregon (USA) coast and showed an annual cycle of relative jaw size together with a linear trend from 2007 to 2009. Strongylocentrotus purpuratus is a long-lived species and under field conditions individuals experience multiple episodes of changes in food resources both seasonally and from year-to-year. Their rapid and reversible jaw plasticity fits well with theoretical expectations.
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  • Ebert, T. A., Hernández, J. C., & Clemente, S. (2014). Annual reversible plasticity of feeding structures: cyclical changes of jaw allometry in a sea urchin. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1779), 20132284. doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.2284
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