Natures wonders: Australian crayfish & flatworms (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Wednesday, May 25, 2016, 01:34 (1337 days ago) @ David Turell

A 100 million year old symbiotic relationship may be ending:

"Look closely into one of the cool, freshwater streams of eastern Australia and you might find a colourful mountain spiny crayfish, from the genus Euastacus. Look even closer and you could see small tentacled flatworms, called temnocephalans, each only a few millimetres long. Temnocephalans live as specialised symbionts on the surface of the crayfish, where they catch tiny food items, or inside the crayfish's gill chamber where they can remove parasites. This is an ancient partnership,


"We've now got a picture of how these two species have evolved together through time," said Dr Jennifer Hoyal Cuthill from Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences, the paper's lead author. "The extinction risk to the crayfish has been measured, but this is the first time we've quantified the risk to the temnocephalans as well - and it looks like this ancient partnership could end with the extinction of both species."


"In Australia, freshwater crayfish are large, diverse and active 'managers', recycling all sorts of organic material and working the sediments," said Professor David Blair of James Cook University in Australia, the paper's senior author. "The temnocephalan worms associated only with these crayfish are also diverse, reflecting a long, shared history and offering a unique window on ancient symbioses. We now risk extinction of many of these partnerships, which will lead to degradation of their previous habitats and leave science the poorer."


"The researchers then used computer simulations to predict the extent of coextinction. This showed that if all the mountain spiny crayfish that are currently endangered were to go extinct, 60% of their temnocephalan symbionts would also be lost to coextinction. The temnocephalan lineages that were predicted to be at the greatest risk of coextinction also tended to be the most evolutionarily distinctive. These lineages represent a long history of symbiosis and coevolution of up to 100 million years. However they are the most likely to suffer coextinction if these species and their habitats are not protected from ongoing environmental and climate change.

"'The intimate relationship between hosts and their symbionts and parasites is often unique and long lived, not just during the lifespan of the individual organisms themselves but during the evolutionary history of the species involved in the association," said study co-author Dr Tim Littlewood of the Natural History Museum. "This study exemplifies how understanding and untangling such an intimate relationship across space and time can yield deep insights into past climates and environments, as well as highlighting current threats to biodiversity.'"

Comment: The understanding of evolution should be that it is always evolving, species coming and going, with 99% of all that ever lived are now gone. This symbiosis is just like the wrasse and the grouper: the wrasse cleanup the grouper, picking between the teeth and on the body. The tiny wrasse are never eaten by the groupers.

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