The Evolution of Siphonophore Tentilla as Specialized Tools for Prey Capture
AbstractPredators have evolved dedicated body parts to capture and subdue prey. As different predators specialize on distinct prey taxa, their tools for prey capture diverge into a variety of adaptive forms. Studying the evolution of predation is greatly facilitated by a predator clade with structures used exclusively for prey capture that present significant morphological variation. Siphonophores, a clade of colonial cnidarians, satisfy these criteria particularly well, capturing prey with
... r tentilla (tentacle side branches). Earlier work has shown that extant siphonophore diets correlate with the different morphologies and sizes of their tentilla and nematocysts. We hypothesize that evolutionary specialization on different prey types has driven the phenotypic evolution of these characters. To test this hypothesis, we: (1) measured multiple morphological traits from fixed siphonophore specimens using microscopy and high speed video techniques, (2) built a phylogenetic tree of 45 species, and (3) characterized the evolutionary associations between siphonophore nematocyst characters and prey type data from the literature. Our results show that siphonophore tentillum structure has strong evolutionary associations with prey type and size specialization, and suggest that shifts between prey-type specializations are linked to shifts in tentillum and nematocyst size and shape. In addition, we generated hypotheses about the diets of understudied siphonophore species based on these characters. Thus, the evolutionary history of tentilla shows that siphonophores are an example of ecological niche diversification via morphological innovation and evolution. This study contributes to understanding how morphological evolution has shaped present-day oceanic food-webs.