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PLoS One. 2010 Jul 29;5(7):e11874. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011874.

Sexual plasticity and self-fertilization in the sea anemone Aiptasia diaphana.

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Department of Zoology, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.


Traits that influence reproductive success and contribute to reproductive isolation in animal and plant populations are a central focus of evolutionary biology. In the present study we used an experimental approach to demonstrate the occurrence of environmental effects on sexual and asexual reproduction, and provide evidence for sexual plasticity and inter-clonal fertilization in laboratory-cultured lines of the sea anemone Aiptasia diaphana. We showed that in A. diaphana, both asexual reproduction by pedal laceration, and sexual reproduction have seasonal components. The rate of pedal laceration was ten-fold higher under summer photoperiod and water temperature conditions than under winter conditions. The onset of gametogenesis coincided with the rising water temperatures occurring in spring, and spawning occurred under parameters that emulated summer photoperiod and temperature conditions. In addition, we showed that under laboratory conditions, asexually produced clones derived from a single founder individual exhibit sexual plasticity, resulting in the development of both male and female individuals. Moreover, a single female founder produced not only males and females but also hermaphrodite individuals. We further demonstrated that A. diaphana can fertilize within and between clone lines, producing swimming planula larvae. These diverse reproductive strategies may explain the species success as invader of artificial marine substrates. We suggest that these diverse reproductive strategies, together with their unique evolutionary position, make Aiptasia diaphana an excellent model for studying the evolution of sex.

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