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Ultrastructure of pigmented adult eyes in errant polychaetes (Annelida): implications for annelid evolution

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Abstract

The evolution of photoreceptor cells and eyes in Metazoa is far from being resolved, although recent developmental and structural studies have provided strong evidence for a common origin of photoreceptor cells and existence of sister cell types already in early metazoans. These sister cell types are ciliary and rhabdomeric photoreceptor cells, depending on which part of each cell is involved in photoreception proper. However, a crucial point in eye evolution is how the enormous structural diversity of photoreceptor cells and visual systems developed, given the general molecular conservation of the photoreceptor cells. One example of this diversity can be observed in Annelida. Within the polychaetes the errant forms, taxon Aciculata, constitute the only group possessing true multicellular eyes in the adult stage. Thus far these organs have been investigated only in taxa of Phyllodocida, a subgroup of Aciculata. Data on Eunicida and Amphinomida as well as certain phyllodocidan taxa had been lacking. The ultrastructure of these adult eyes was investigated in various species of errant polychaetes, belonging to Amphinomidae, Eunicidae and Hesionidae, to elucidate whether they provide any phylogenetic clues regarding either the evolution of visual systems in Annelida or lophotrochozoan phylogeny in general. These eyes are composed of numerous supportive pigment cells and rhabdomeric photoreceptor cells and sometimes additional cell types. As a rule the pigment and rhabdomeric cell types form a continuous epithelium in which the two types intermingle. Presence of granules with shading pigment in sensory cells is a common feature but is apparently restricted to a taxon comprising Phyllodocida and Eunicida s. str. Very likely a lens-like structure does not belong to the ground pattern of annelid eyes, despite its presence in Phyllodocida. These lens-like structures are formed by secretions or cellular processes of the pigment cells. In many species the eye cup communicates with the exterior via a small cuticularized canal. This canal is interpreted as a rudiment due to the mode of formation in the epidermis. With respect to current phylogenetic hypotheses, these multicellular eyes have either been developed in the stem species of a taxon Aciculata nested within the polychaetes or have been evolved in the stem lineage of Annelida. Similarities to gastropod eyes are interpreted as convergent and not as indication of common origin. Except for the photoreceptor cells proper, the structure of the adult eyes in polychaetes most likely does not help to resolve lophotrochozoan phylogeny.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to K. Etzold, A. Paul, A. Ritz and W. Mangerich for various kinds of technical assistance. Support in many ways by the head of the zoology department, Professor A. Paululat, is gratefully acknowledged. We thank Dr. D. Arendt, EMBL, Heidelberg, Germany, and Dr. H. Hausen, Free University Berlin, for discussions and use of unpublished information. The study was financed by a grant of the DFG in the deep phylogeny programme (Pu 84/3-1).

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Suschenko, D., Purschke, G. Ultrastructure of pigmented adult eyes in errant polychaetes (Annelida): implications for annelid evolution. Zoomorphology 128, 75–96 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00435-008-0075-3

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