High natural fusion rates in a botryllid ascidian
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Many benthic colonial invertebrates have the ability to fuse and form chimeras with compatible colonies. Botryllid ascidians are model organisms for the study of the evolution of and molecular basis for allorecognition, and fusion rates have been determined for different populations and species by random sampling and fusion testing between individuals. However, natural fusion rates over time have not been documented. Nine settlement panels were deployed in Salem Harbor, Massachusetts, USA and Botrylloides violaceus settlement, growth, and fusion monitored from July to mid-August 2007. Seventy-three percent of the recruits observed fused with at least one other colony, while 4% neither fused nor were overgrown. Multifused colonies were not observed to grow faster than single colonies when growth was calculated as increase in size beyond the summation of fused entities; however, they were significantly larger. These results suggest that larvae settle in clumps of compatible individuals, and that large subtidal colonies may be the result of high numbers of fusions between compatible colonies.