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Pale anemones (Aiptasia pallida) coexist with dinoflagellates (primarily Symbiodinium minutum) in a mutualistic relationship. The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of these symbionts in gonad development of anemone hosts. Symbiotic and aposymbiotic anemones were subjected to light cycles that induced gametogenesis. These anemones were then sampled weekly for nine weeks, and gonad development was analyzed histologically. Anemone size was measured as mean body column diameter, and oocytes or sperm follicles were counted for each anemone. Generalized linear models were used to evaluate the influence of body size and symbiotic status on whether gonads were present and on the number of oocytes or sperm follicles produced. Body size predicted whether gonads were present, with larger anemones being more likely than smaller anemones to develop gonads. Both body size and symbiotic status predicted gonad size, such that larger and symbiotic anemones produced more oocytes and sperm follicles than smaller and aposymbiotic anemones. Overall, only 22 % of aposymbiotic females produced oocytes, whereas 63 % of symbiotic females produced oocytes. Similarly, 6 % of aposymbiotic males produced sperm follicles, whereas 60 % of symbiotic males produced sperm follicles. Thus, while gonads were present in 62 % of symbiotic anemones, they were present in only 11 % of aposymbiotic anemones. These results indicate that dinoflagellate symbionts influence gonad development and thus sexual maturation in both female and male Aiptasia pallida anemones. This finding substantiates and expands our current understanding of the importance of symbionts in the development and physiology of cnidarian hosts.
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Carlisle, J.F., Murphy, G.K. & Roark, A.M. Symbiosis (2017) 71: 121. doi:10.1007/s13199-016-0456-1