Ecology and Evolution

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Previous studies suggest that large body size reduces the risk of predation for acontiate sea anemones. For two species of Metridium, we found significant increases in the length of the acontial threads and in the mean lengths of the unfired acontial nematocyst capsules, with increasing body size. This supports the hypothesis that more damaging acontial defenses protect larger acontiate anemones from their predators. Metridium is planktivorous, and food size does not increase substantially with body size; so we expected smaller increases in nematocyst size for the feeding tentacles. In fact, scaling exponents were significantly smaller for the tentacle nematocysts than for acontial nematocysts of the same types in 3 out of 4 cases. This suggests that nematocyst scaling responds predictably to selection pressure. When specimens of the same size were compared, the non-clonal, subtidal species, M. farcimen, had significantly larger acontial nematocysts than did its clonal congener, M. senile, which lives at the upper tidal limits for major subtidal predators in the northeastern Pacific. Therefore, larger acontial nematocysts may be particularly advantageous where predation levels are high. These data demonstrate that closely related anemone species can be distinguished on the basis of ecologically and functionally relevant differences in nematocyst scaling.

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The Biological Bulletin, v. 207, issue 2, p. 130-140