A Novel Report of Hatching Plasticity in the Phylum Echinodermata

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Hatching plasticity occurs in response to a wide range of stimuli across many animal taxa, including annelids, arthropods, mollusks, and chordates. Despite the prominence of echinoderms in developmental biology and more than 100 years of detailed examination of their development under a variety of conditions, environmentally cued hatching plasticity has never been reported in the phylum Echinodermata. Here we report plasticity in the timing and stage of hatching of embryos of the sand dollar Echinarachnius parma in response to reductions in salinity. Embryos of E. parma increased their time to hatching more than twofold in response to ecologically relevant salinity reductions, while maintaining an otherwise normal developmental schedule. Embryos that experienced the greatest delay in hatching time emerged from the fertilization envelope as four-arm pluteus larvae rather than hatching as blastulae or early gastrulae. Salinity manipulations across multiple male-female pairs indicated high variability in hatching time both within and among clutches, suggesting significant intraspecific variation in developmental responses to salinity.


A. Francis Armstrong and Holly Blackburn were undergraduate students at the College of William and Mary when this research was conducted.