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PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e48529. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0048529. Epub 2012 Nov 7.

An anatomical description of a miniaturized acorn worm (hemichordata, enteropneusta) with asexual reproduction by paratomy.

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  • 1Marine Biological Section, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.


The interstitial environment of marine sandy bottoms is a nutrient-rich, sheltered habitat whilst at the same time also often a turbulent, space-limited, and ecologically challenging environment dominated by meiofauna. The interstitial fauna is one of the most diverse on earth and accommodates miniaturized representatives from many macrofaunal groups as well as several exclusively meiofaunal phyla. The colonization process of this environment, with the restrictions imposed by limited space and low Reynolds numbers, has selected for great morphological and behavioral changes as well as new life history strategies.Here we describe a new enteropneust species inhabiting the interstices among sand grains in shallow tropical waters of the West Atlantic. With a maximum body length of 0.6 mm, it is the first microscopic adult enteropneust known, a group otherwise ranging from 2 cm to 250 cm in adult size. Asexual reproduction by paratomy has been observed in this new species, a reproductive mode not previously reported among enteropneusts. Morphologically, Meioglossus psammophilus gen. et sp. nov. shows closest resemblance to an early juvenile stage of the acorn worm family Harrimaniidae, a result congruent with its phylogenetic placement based on molecular data. Its position, clearly nested within the larger macrofaunal hemichordates, suggests that this represents an extreme case of miniaturization. The evolutionary pathway to this simple or juvenile appearance, as chiefly demonstrated by its small size, dense ciliation, and single pair of gill pores, may be explained by progenesis. The finding of M. psammophilus gen. et sp. nov. underscores the notion that meiofauna may constitute a rich source of undiscovered metazoan diversity, possibly disguised as juveniles of other species.

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