Research Summary: Shared Skeletal Support in a Coral-Hydroid Symbiosis
Hydroids form symbiotic relationships with a range of invertebrate hosts. Where they live with colonial invertebrates such as corals or bryozoans the hydroids may benefit from the physical support and protection of their host’s hard exoskeleton, but how they interact with them is unknown. Electron microscopy was used to investigate the physical interactions between the colonial hydroid Zanclea margaritae and its reef-building coral host Acropora muricata. The hydroid tissues extend below the coral tissue surface sitting in direct contact with the host’s skeleton. Although this arrangement provides the hydroid with protective support, it also presents problems of potential interference with the coral’s growth processes and exposes the hydroid to overgrowth and smothering. Desmocytes located within the epidermal layer of the hydroid’s perisarc-free hydrorhizae fasten it to the coral skeleton. The large apical surface area of the desmocyte and high bifurcation of the distal end within the mesoglea, as well as the clustering of desmocytes suggests that a very strong attachment between the hydroid and the coral skeleton. This is the first study to provide a detailed description of how symbiotic hydroids attach to their host’s skeleton, utilising it for physical support. Results suggest that the loss of perisarc, a characteristic commonly associated with symbiosis, allows the hydroid to utilise desmocytes for attachment. The use of these anchoring structures provides a dynamic method of attachment, facilitating detachment from the coral skeleton during extension, thereby avoiding overgrowth and smothering enabling the hydroid to remain within the host colony for prolonged periods of time.