Uncommon Diversity in Developmental Mode and Larval Form in the Genus Macrophiothrix (Echinodermata: Ophiuroidea)

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Development mode in the ophiuroid genus Macrophiothrix includes an unusual diversity of planktonic larval forms and feeding types. The modes of development for seven congeners that coexist in coral reef habitats at Lizard Island, Australia were compared using larvae generated from crosses over several reproductive seasons from 1999 to 2003. Three species (Macrophiothrix koehleri Clark, Macrophiothrix longipeda Lamarck, Macrophiothrix lorioli Clark) develop from small eggs (

Among the lecithotrophic species, Macrophiothrix caenosa Hoggett retains the pluteus morphology with four pairs of larval arms, but is incapable of feeding, depending instead on maternal provisions for larval development. The remaining two lecithotrophs have simplified larval morphologies with only a single pair of full length (Macrophiothrix nereidina Lamarck) or highly reduced (Macrophiothrix belli Doderlein) larval arms and no functional mouth or gut. This genus includes the first example of facultative planktotrophy in ophiuroids, the first example in echinoderms of a complete pluteus morphology retained by a lecithotrophic larva, and three degrees of morphological simplification among lecithotrophic larval forms. Egg volume varies 20-fold among species and is related to variation in feeding mode, larval form, and development time, as predicted for the transition from planktotrophic
to lecithotrophic development.