No effects and no control of epibionts in two species of temperate pycnogonids

Steven J. Lane, Caitlin M. Shishido, Amy L. Moran, Bret W. Tobalske, H. Arthur Woods

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Essentially all surfaces of marine plants and animals host epibionts. These organisms may harm their hosts in a number of ways, including impeding gas exchange or increasing the costs of locomotion. Epibionts can also be beneficial. For example, they may camouflage their hosts, and photosynthetic epibionts can produce oxygen. In general, however, the costs of epibionts appear to outweigh their benefits. Many organisms, therefore, shed epibionts by grooming, molting, or preventing them from initially attaching, using surface waxes and cuticular structures. In this study, we examined how epibionts affect local oxygen supply to temperate species of pycnogonids (sea spiders). We also tested the effectiveness of different methods that pycnogonids may use to control epibionts (grooming, cuticle wettability, and cuticular waxes). In two temperate species: Achelia chelata and Achelia gracilipes, epibionts consisted primarily of algae and diatoms, formed layers approximately 0.25-mm thick, and they colonized at least 75% of available surface area. We used microelectrodes to measure oxygen levels in and under the layers of epibionts. In bright light, these organisms produced high levels of oxygen; in the dark, they had no negative effect on local oxygen supply. We tested mechanisms of control of epibionts by pycnogonids in three ways: disabling their ovigers to prevent grooming, extracting wax layers from the cuticle, and measuring the wettability of the cuticle; however, none of these experiments affected epibiont coverage. These findings indicate that in temperate environments, epibionts are not costly to pycnogonids and, in some circumstances, they may be beneficial.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-173
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


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