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Integr Comp Biol. 2010 Dec;50(6):919-33.

Life in the colonies: learning the alien ways of colonial organisms.

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  • 1Virginia Museum of Natural History, Martinsville, VA 24112, USA. judith.winston@vmnh.virginia.gov

Abstract

Who needs to go to outer space to study alien beings when the oceans of our own planet abound with bizarre and unknown creatures? Many of them belong to sessile clonal and colonial groups, including sponges, hydroids, corals, octocorals, ascidians, bryozoans, and some polychaetes. Their life histories, in many ways unlike our own, are a challenge for biologists. Studying their ecology, behavior, and taxonomy means trying to “think like a colony” to understand the factors important in their lives. Until the 1980s, most marine ecologists ignored these difficult modular organisms. Plant ecologists showed them ways to deal with the two levels of asexually produced modules and genetic individuals, leading to a surge in research on the ecology of clonal and colonial marine invertebrates. Bryozoans make excellent model colonial animals. Their life histories range from ephemeral to perennial. Aspects of their lives such as growth, reproduction, partial mortality due to predation or fouling, and the behavior of both autozooids and polymorphs can be studied at the level of the colony, as well as that of the individual module, in living colonies and over time.

PMID:
21714171
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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