Reproduction of Cnidaria
Fautin, Daphne G.
National Research Council of Canada
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Empirical and experimental data on cnidarian reproduction show it to be more variable than had been thought, and many patterns that had previously been deduced hold up poorly or not at all in light of additional data. The border between sexual and asexual reproduction appears to be faint. This may be due to analytical tools being insufficiently powerful to distinguish between the two, but it may be that a distinction between sexual and asexual reproduction is not very important biologically to cnidarians. Given the variety of modes by which it is now evident that asexual reproduction occurs, its ecological and evolutionary implications have probably been underestimated. Appropriate analytical frameworks and strategies must be developed for these morphologically simple animals, in which sexual reproduction may not be paramount, that during one lifetime may pass through two or more phases differing radically in morphology and ecology, that may hybridize, that are potentially extremely long-lived, and that may transmit through both sexual and asexual reproduction mutations arising in somatic tissue. In cnidarians, perhaps more than in any other phylum, reproductive attributes have been used to define taxa, but they do so at a variety of levels and not necessarily in the way they have conventionally been considered. At the species level, in Scleractinia, in which these features have been most studied, taxa defined on the basis of morphology, sexual reproduction, and molecular characters may not coincide; there are insufficient data to determine if this is true throughout the phylum. At the class level, transverse fission occurs in members of all three major taxa but is rare outside Scyphozoa, the group of which it is considered characteristic (pending more research, its absence in Cubozoa should be ascribed to poor knowledge). Understanding the role of transverse fission in the ecology and reproductive biology of hydrozoans and anthozoans could shed light on scyphyozoan evolutionary history, and elucidating its morphogenesis in all groups is essential to determining if it is homologous across the classes. Only by comparing aspects of reproduction among cnidarians of various taxa will idiosyncratically adaptive strategies be distinguished from reproductive characters that reflect evolution and so are phylogenetically informative.
Fautin, Daphne Gail. 2002. Reproduction of Cnidaria. Canadian Journal of Zoology 80(10): 1735-1754.
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