LIFE HISTORY AND POPULATION BIOLOGY
Age, Size, Lifespan
Individual zooids are
approximately 2.0 to 2.5 cm in height (Young & Bingham 1987,
Ruppert & Fox 1988), and colonies may reach a diameter of 14
cm and weigh up to 350 g (Carballo et al. 1997). Although
the maximum age of E. turbinata in the field is unknown,
maturation from fertilized egg to adult can occur in a few months
Distribution of E. turbinata
can be patchy and abundance may vary with season. In the IRL, large
clusters can carpet the undersides of floating docks, and the submerged
lengths of red mangrove prop roots. In the Mediterranean, densities
can reach 175 zooids per square meter (Carballo 2000).
Adult E. turbinata
are simultaneous hermaphrodites, but can reproduce sexually or asexually.
Sexual reproduction occurs most frequently in the spring and summer
when water temperatures are warm. The mangrove tunicate is ovoviviparous,
and larvae are brooded in the peribranchial cavity for approximately
7 to 9 days after fertilization before being released into the water
column (Carballo et al. 2000).
Ascidians produce tadpole
larvae with a visible notochord. Hence, they are placed in the phylum
Chordata, along with mammals, birds and fishes. Tadpole larvae of
E. turbinata are conspicuous, bright orange to yellow and
approximately 4.5 mm in length (Young & Bingham 1987). They
are lecithitrophic (Carballo 2000), obtaining nutrients from yolk
reserves instead of feeding on plankton (planktotrophic). Because
of this life-history trait, the planktonic stage of E. turbinata
is short, and larvae must find a suitable habitat to settle before
food reserves are exhausted. Locomotion throughout the water column
facilitates this search. Larvae swim in a similar fashion to fishes,
bending at the junction between the trunk and the tail to undulate
through the water (McHenry 2005). After finding a suitable habitat,
larvae attach themselves to the substratum via a series of adhesive-producing
structures at the front of the trunk called papillae. When attachment
is complete, larvae metamorphose into juvenile tunicates.
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