Rudiment resorption as a response to starvation during larval development in the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis
CANADIAN JOURNAL OF ZOOLOGY
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Phenotypic flexibility (reversible phenotypic change) enables organisms to couple internal, ontogenetic responses with external, environmental cues. Phenotypic flexibility also provides organisms with the capacity to buffer stereotypical internal, developmental processes from unpredictable external, ecological events. Echinoids exhibit dramatic phenotypic flexibility in response to variation in exogenous nutrient supplies. The extent to which echinoids display this flexibility has been explored incompletely and research hitherto has been conducted predominantly on larval structures and morphologies. We investigated experimentally the extent to which the primordial juvenile, the developing rudiment, can exhibit the first phase in phenotypic flexibility among individuals. We report for the first time on rudiment regression and complete resorption as a response to starvation during larval development in the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis (O.F. Muller, 1776) and identify a developmental "window of opportunity" within which this can occur. Based on our observations and previous suggestions, we speculate that sea urchin rudiments might provide means of buffering development during unfavorable conditions.