Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK

Reproductive biology, sexual dimorphism, and population structure of the deep sea hydrothermal vent scale-worm, Branchipolynoe seepensis (Polychaeta: Polynoidae)

D.  Jollivet a1c1, A.  Empis a1, M.C.  Baker a2, S.  Hourdez a1p1, T.  Comtet a2p2, C.  Jouin-Toulmond a1, D.  Desbruyères p2 and P.A.  Tyler a2
a1 Station Biologique de Roscoff, (UPMC-CNRS-INSU), BP 74, Place Georges Teissier, 29682, Roscoff cedex, France
a2 School of Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton (SOC), Southampton, SO14 3ZH, England


The polychaete family Polynoidae (scale-worms) is well-represented at deep sea hydrothermal vents. Most species are free-living in a wide range of habitats: from high-temperature hydrothermal `chimney' walls to diffuse venting areas. Conversely, species of the genus Branchipolynoe live inside the mantle cavity of vent and seep mytilids. Specimens, morphologically close to Branchipolynoe seepensis, have been reported from all the known vent areas on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR), with varying infestation rates (0–6 individuals per host). Reproductive tract, gametogenesis and population structures were examined for specimens from the Lucky Strike vent field (MAR) in order to test whether this species displays dwarf males, protandric hermaphroditism or differential mortality between males and females. Observations of histological sections reveal the presence of fully developed ovaries in females which originate ventrally in segments 7–9 and of an unusual genital tract in which both sperm and mature oocytes are stored. Oogenesis is intraovarian and quasi-continuous. The vitellogenic oocytes are only free in the coelom at their terminal growing stage and are then transferred into an ovisac through spermathecae. The species displays an external sexual dimorphism in the number of genital papillae and the shape of the pygidial appendages. Sex ratios showed significant deviations from a 1:1 expected ratio, in favour of females. The modal decompositions of size–frequency histograms show the occurrence of three modes in females and only two modes in males, indicating discrete breeding periods. The two first modes were not significantly different between males and females. These results indicate that B. seepensis forms heterosexual pairs and uses internal fertilization to reproduce during discrete spawning periods. Differential mortality between males and females is likely to shape size-histograms as observed by preventing males from reaching the female proportions. Such an observation could be a result of either cannibalism on larger males, small sizes facilitating the male escape, or natural predation when males move from one bivalve to another to breed.

p1 Department of Biology, 208 Mueller Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA16802, USA
p2 IFREMER, Centre de Brest, DRO/EP, BP 70, 29280 Plouzané, France