, Volume 123, Issue 4, pp 741-756

Survey of the occurrence and morphology of sub-cuticular bacteria in shelf echinoderms from the north-east Atlantic Ocean

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Echinoderms from the shelf seas around the British Isles were examined by epifluorescence and transmission electron microscopy for the presence of sub-cuticular bacteria (SCB). Information was obtained on SCB distribution in 63 of the 88 species known from this area, and 40 of these contained SCB. The SCB were present in all five classes. Only 39% of the holothurian species had SCB. In each of the other four classes, ≥60% of the species were associated with SCB. No correlation was noted between host ecology and SCB distribution or morphology. SCB distribution appeared to be related to host phylogeny. Congeneric echinoderms almost always had or lacked SCB, and this was usually also true for co-familial species. SCB showed limited morphological diversity, with all of them fitting into a classification of three general types. There was no morphological evidence suggesting that they are chemoautotrophs or methylotrophs. Some species had two morphological types of symbiont. SCB load was quantified for four species, three of which had symbiont densities >109 SCB g-1 ash-free dry wt. SCB are probably heterotrophic and may be co-evolving with their hosts.

Communicated by J. Mauchline, Oban