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Biol Bull. 2000 Dec;199(3):298-304.

Effects of food concentration and availability on the incidence of cloning in planktotrophic larvae of the sea star Pisaster ochraceus.

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Department of Biology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 35294-1170, USA.


A decade ago, cloning was first observed in the planktotrophic larvae of sea stars obtained from plankton tows. However, no controlled experimental studies have investigated what factors may regulate this remarkable phenomenon. In the present study we offer the first documentation of cloning in the planktotrophic larvae of Pisaster ochraceus from the northern Pacific coast. This species was used as a model system to investigate three factors that may influence the incidence of asexual reproduction (cloning) in planktotrophic sea star larvae. In an initial experiment, larvae were reared under nine combinations of three temperatures and three food (phytoplankton) concentrations. Larvae reared at 12-15 degrees C and fed the highest food concentrations grew larger than the other larvae and produced significantly more clones. In a second experiment, qualitatively different algal diets were fed to larvae reared under the conditions found to be optimal in the initial experiment. Up to 24% of the larvae consuming a mixed phytoplankton diet of Isochrysis galbana, Chaetocerous calcitrans, and Dunaliella tertiolecta cloned, and significantly more clones were produced by these larvae than by those fed monospecific diets. Our experiments indicate that cloning generally occurs after larvae have attained asymptotic body length and only when food is abundant and of high quality. Since larval mortality is considered to be extremely high for marine invertebrates with planktotrophic larvae, production of clones under optimal conditions of temperature and food may serve to increase larval populations when the environment is most conducive to larval growth.

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