, Volume 125, Issue 3, pp 109-117

Fine structure of the pharyngeal apparatus of the pelagosphera larva in Phascolosoma agassizii (Sipuncula) and its phylogenetic significance

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Abstract

Sipuncula is a small taxon of worm-like marine organisms of still uncertain phylogenetic position. Sipunculans are characterized by an unsegmented body composed of a trunk into which the anterior part, the introvert, can be withdrawn. The group has been placed at various positions within Metazoa; currently, it is either seen as sister group of a clade comprising Mollusca and Annelida or as sister to each of these. An in-group position in either Mollusca or Annelida has usually been precluded till now due to the lack of so-called annelid or molluscan “key-characters” such as segmentation and chaetae or the radula. In the development of certain taxa the trochophore stage is followed by a planktonic larva, the pelagosphera, which might exhibit phylogenetically important structures. Among these is the buccal organ, which has been considered homologous either to the ventral pharyngeal organ present in many sedentary polychaetes or to the radular apparatus of molluscs. In the present paper, the ventral pharynx of the pelagosphera larva of Phascolosoma agassizii is investigated by transmission electron microscopy. The pharynx comprises dorsolateral ciliary folds, a muscle bulb formed by transverse muscle fibres with large intercellular spaces, and an investing muscle. A tongue-like organ is lacking. These results show great structural correspondences to the ventral pharynx of polychaetes, especially to that of the flabelligerid Diplocirrus longisetosus. In contrast, there are no signs of structural similarities to the corresponding structures of molluscs. Thus evidence increases that Sipuncula are closely related to annelids; moreover, an in-group position of Sipuncula within Annelida, as suggested by recent molecular studies, is not precluded by the present data. Instead these studies find additional support. Hence the lack of segmentation and chitinous chaetae in Sipuncula would be a secondary rather than a primary situation, as has recently been shown for Echiura and Pogonophora.