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Concept: Annelid


Recent discoveries of fossil nervous tissue in Cambrian fossils have allowed researchers to trace the origin and evolution of the complex arthropod head and brain based on stem groups close to the origin of the clade, rather than on extant, highly derived members. Here we show that Kerygmachela from Sirius Passet, North Greenland, a primitive stem-group euarthropod, exhibits a diminutive (protocerebral) brain that innervates both the eyes and frontal appendages. It has been surmised, based on developmental evidence, that the ancestor of vertebrates and arthropods had a tripartite brain, which is refuted by the fossil evidence presented here. Furthermore, based on the discovery of eyes in Kerygmachela, we suggest that the complex compound eyes in arthropods evolved from simple ocelli, present in onychophorans and tardigrades, rather than through the incorporation of a set of modified limbs.

Concepts: Evolution, Insect, Arthropod, Annelid, Fossil, Paleontology, Cambrian explosion, Cambrian


Deep-sea hydrothermal vents are subject to major disturbances that alter the physical and chemical environment and eradicate the resident faunal communities. Vent fields are isolated by uninhabitable deep seafloor, so recolonization via dispersal of planktonic larvae is critical for persistence of populations. We monitored colonization near 9°50'N on the East Pacific Rise following a catastrophic eruption in order to address questions of the relative contributions of pioneer colonists and environmental change to variation in species composition, and the role of pioneers at the disturbed site in altering community structure elsewhere in the region. Pioneer colonists included two gastropod species: Ctenopelta porifera, which was new to the vent field, and Lepetodrilus tevnianus, which had been rare before the eruption but persisted in high abundance afterward, delaying and possibly out-competing the ubiquitous pre-eruption congener L. elevatus. A decrease in abundance of C. porifera over time, and the arrival of later species, corresponded to a decrease in vent fluid flow and in the sulfide to temperature ratio. For some species these successional changes were likely due to habitat requirements, but other species persisted (L. tevnianus) or arrived (L. elevatus) in patterns unrelated to their habitat preferences. After two years, disturbed communities had started to resemble pre-eruption ones, but were lower in diversity. When compared to a prior (1991) eruption, the succession of foundation species (tubeworms and mussels) appeared to be delayed, even though habitat chemistry became similar to the pre-eruption state more quickly. Surprisingly, a nearby community that had not been disturbed by the eruption was invaded by the pioneers, possibly after they became established in the disturbed vents. These results indicate that the post-eruption arrival of species from remote locales had a strong and persistent effect on communities at both disturbed and undisturbed vents.

Concepts: Ecology, Annelid, Hydrothermal vent, East Pacific Rise, Black smoker, Silent Alarm


BACKGROUND: Resistance against benzimidazoles (BZ) has recently been detected in Norwegian sheep flocks through a large scale prevalence survey based on the faecal egg count reduction test (FECRT). The use of this test in combination with bulk larval culture only gives an indication of which gastrointestinal nematodes genera that are involved and these results have to be confirmed by a controlled efficacy test (CET) to get accurate information about resistant nematodes populations at species level. A CET was therefore performed with larvae from two flocks where BZ resistance was previously detected through FECRT. RESULTS: The latter test confirmed the previous results in both flocks. In flock A, the BZ resistant nematode population consisted solely of Haemonchus contortus, whereas H. contortus and Teladorsagia circumcincta comprised the resistant worm population in flock B. CONCLUSIONS: Some discrepancies that have been recorded between FECRT and CET results regarding time for post-treatment coproscopical examination and a temporary suppression of faecal egg excretion are discussed.

Concepts: Parasites, Biology, Insect, Nematode, Nematodes, Annelid, Norway, Haemonchus contortus


Whilst the fossil record of polychaete worms extends to the early Cambrian, much data on this group derive from microfossils known as scolecodonts. These are sclerotized jaw elements, which generally range from 0.1-2 mm in size, and which, in contrast to the soft-body anatomy, have good preservation potential and a continuous fossil record. Here we describe a new eunicidan polychaete, Websteroprion armstrongi gen. et sp. nov., based primarily on monospecific bedding plane assemblages from the Lower-Middle Devonian Kwataboahegan Formation of Ontario, Canada. The specimens are preserved mainly as three-dimensional moulds in the calcareous host rock, with only parts of the original sclerotized jaw walls occasionally present. This new taxon has a unique morphology and is characterized by an unexpected combination of features seen in several different Palaeozoic polychaete families. Websteroprion armstrongi was a raptorial feeder and possessed the largest jaws recorded in polychaetes from the fossil record, with maxillae reaching over one centimetre in length. Total body length of the species is estimated to have reached over one metre, which is comparable to that of extant ‘giant eunicid’ species colloquially referred to as ‘Bobbit worms’. This demonstrates that polychaete gigantism was already a phenomenon in the Palaeozoic, some 400 million years ago.

Concepts: Evolution, Orders of magnitude, Geology, Annelid, Fossil, Paleontology, Cambrian, Polychaete


Pentastomids (tongue worms) are worm-like arthropods known today from ∼140 species [1]. All but four are parasitic on vertebrates. Their life cycle typically involves larval development in an intermediate host followed by maturation in the respiratory tract of a definitive terrestrial host. Fossil pentastomids are exceedingly rare and are known only from isolated juveniles [2-6]. The identity of the possible hosts of fossil pentastomids and the origin of their lifestyle have generated much debate. A new, exceptionally preserved species, described based on adults from 425-million-year-old marine rocks, is the only known fossil pentastomid associated with a host, in this case a species of ostracod crustacean. The pentastomids are preserved near eggs within the ostracod and also, uniquely for any fossil or living pentastomid, are attached externally to the host. This discovery affirms the origin of pentastomids as ectoparasitic on marine invertebrates. The terrestrialization of pentastomids may have occurred in parallel with the vertebrate invasion of land.

Concepts: Species, Insect, Crustacean, Vertebrate, Annelid, Invertebrate, Maxillopoda, Devonian


The molecularly defined clade Ecdysozoa comprises the panarthropods (Euarthropoda, Onychophora and Tardigrada) and the cycloneuralian worms (Nematoda, Nematomorpha, Priapulida, Loricifera and Kinorhyncha). These disparate phyla are united by their means of moulting, but otherwise share few morphological characters-none of which has a meaningful fossilization potential. As such, the early evolutionary history of the group as a whole is largely uncharted. Here we redescribe the 508-million-year-old stem-group onychophoran Hallucigenia sparsa from the mid-Cambrian Burgess Shale. We document an elongate head with a pair of simple eyes, a terminal buccal chamber containing a radial array of sclerotized elements, and a differentiated foregut that is lined with acicular teeth. The radial elements and pharyngeal teeth resemble the sclerotized circumoral elements and pharyngeal teeth expressed in tardigrades, stem-group euarthropods and cycloneuralian worms. Phylogenetic results indicate that equivalent structures characterized the ancestral panarthropod and, seemingly, the ancestral ecdysozoan, demonstrating the deep homology of panarthropod and cycloneuralian mouthparts, and providing an anatomical synapomorphy for the ecdysozoan supergroup.

Concepts: Evolution, Arthropod, Animal, Phylogenetics, Annelid, Ecdysozoa, Onychophora, Priapulida


Ecological niche theory asserts that invading species become established only if introduced propagules survive stochastic mortality and can exploit resources unconsumed by resident species. Because their transportation is not controlled by plant health or biosecurity regulations, soil macrofauna decomposers, including earthworms are probably introduced frequently into non-native soils. Yet even with climatic change, exotic earthworm species from southern Europe have not been reported to become established in previously glaciated areas of northern Europe that already have trophically differentiated earthworm communities of ‘peregrine’ species. We discovered established populations of the earthworm Prosellodrilus amplisetosus (Lumbricidae), a member of a genus endemic to southern France, in six habitats of an urban farm in Dublin, Ireland, about 1000 km north of the genus’s endemic range. Not only was P. amplisetosus the dominant endogeic (geophagous) earthworm species in two habitats, it also occupied a significantly different trophic position from the resident species, as evinced by stable isotope ratio analysis. The suggested ability of this non-native species to feed on and assimilate isotopically more enriched soil carbon © and nitrogen fractions that are inaccessible to resident species portends potential implications of decomposer range expansions for soil functioning including C sequestration.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecology, Soil, Annelid, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Invasive species, Charles Darwin


One of the recalcitrant questions regarding the evolutionary history of clitellate annelids involves the feeding preference of the common ancestor of extant rhynchobdellid (proboscis bearing) and arhynchobdellid (jaw bearing) leeches. Whereas early evidence, based on morphological data, pointed towards independent acquisitions of blood feeding in the 2 orders, molecular-based phylogenetic data suggest that the ancestor of modern leeches was a sanguivore. Here, we use a comparative transcriptomic approach in order to increase our understanding of the diversity of anticoagulation factors for 3 species of the genus Placobdella, for which comparative data have been lacking, and inspect these in light of archetypal anticoagulant data for both arhynchobdellid and other rhynchobdellid species. Notwithstanding the varying levels of host-specificity displayed by the 3 different species of Placobdella, transcriptomic profiles with respect to anticoagulation factors were largely similar - this despite the fact that Placobdella kwetlumye only retains a single pair of salivary glands, as opposed to the 2 pairs more common in the genus. Results show that 9 different anticoagulant proteins and an additional 5 putative anti-hemostasis proteins are expressed in salivary secretions of the 3 species. In particular, an ortholog of the archetypal, single-copy, anticoagulant hirudin (not previously available as comparative data for rhynchobdellids) is present in at least 2 of 3 species examined, corroborating the notion of a single origin of blood feeding in the ancestral leech.

Concepts: Evolution, Species, Phylogenetic tree, Annelid, Salivary glands, Ancestor, Leech, Hematophagy


Orthrozanclus is a shell-bearing, sclerite covered Cambrian organism of uncertain taxonomic affinity, seemingly representing an intermediate between its fellow problematica Wiwaxia and Halkieria. Attempts to group these slug-like taxa into a single ‘halwaxiid’ clade nevertheless present structural and evolutionary difficulties. Here we report a new species of Orthrozanclus from the early Cambrian Chengjiang Lagerstätte. The scleritome arrangement and constitution in this material corroborates the link between Orthrozanclus and Halkieria, but not with Wiwaxia - and calls into question its purported relationship with molluscs. Instead, the tripartite construction of the halkieriid scleritome finds a more compelling parallel in the camenellan tommotiids, relatives of the brachiopods and phoronids. Such a phylogenetic position would indicate the presence of a scleritome in the common ancestor of the three major trochozoan lineages, Mollusca, Annelida and Brachiozoa. On this view, the absence of fossil Ediacaran sclerites is evidence against any ‘Precambrian prelude’ to the explosive diversification of these phyla in the Cambrian, c. 540-530 million years ago.

Concepts: Evolution, Annelid, Mollusca, Wiwaxia, Halkieria, Orthrozanclus, Sclerite, Halwaxiida


To survive exposure to space conditions, organisms should have certain characteristics including a high tolerance for freezing, radiation and desiccation. The organisms with the best chance for survival under such conditions are extremophiles, like some species of Bacteria and Archea, Rotifera, several species of Nematoda, some of the arthropods and Tardigrada (water bears). There is no denying that tardigrades are one of the toughest animals on our planet and are the most unique in the extremophiles group. Tardigrada are very small animals (50 to 2,100 μm in length), and they inhabit great number of Earth environments. Ever since it was proven that tardigrades have high resistance to the different kinds of stress factors associated with cosmic journeys, combined with their relatively complex structure and their relative ease of observation, they have become a perfect model organism for space research. This taxon is now the focus of astrobiologists from around the world. Therefore, this paper presents a short review of the space research performed on tardigrades as well as some considerations for further studies.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Eukaryote, Arthropod, Annelid, Tardigrade, Polyextremophile