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Evol Dev. 2000 May-Jun;2(3):152-6.

The significance of moulting in Ecdysozoan evolution.

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Department of Integrative Biology and Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley 94720, USA.


Three major bilaterian clades first appear in the Early Cambrian fossil record: Deuterostomia, Lophotrochozoa, and Ecdysozoa. The taxa placed in Ecdysozoa are characterized by a moulting habit, unknown in the other major clades. The origin and consequences of moulting are of fundamental importance to the history of the ecdysozoan clade, chiefly because moulting precludes motile ectodermal cilia. Moulting may have originated as an adaptation to permit the enlargement, during growth, of secreted cuticular spines, flanges, and other structures used as ancillary locomotory devices. A combination of phylogenetic and fossil evidence suggests that the early members of these clades were small vermiform paracoelomates that likely lacked indirect-developing planktotrophic larvae. Thus, the evolution of planktotrophic larvae may have been independently achieved at least three times within Bilateria. The nonmoulting clades evolved larvae that swim and feed via ciliated tufts and bands, presumably intercalating these forms within their early developmental systems. Within Ecdysozoa, feeding larvae lacked ciliary feeding tracts and evolved by modification of early instars, employing limbs or setae to generate feeding currents. The setting aside during larval life of cells that give rise to adult features is probably an adaptation associated with metamorphosis.

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