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A comparative study of the functional morphology of parapodia and setae in nereids (Polychaeta: Nereididae)

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Errant polychaetes of the family Nereididae can be found in a wide range of sub- and intertidal habitats. They can burrow, crawl and swim. The latter two behaviours are primarily achieved by the use of parapodia and their attached setae. Here we compare the parapodia and setae of five species of atoke nereids living in either soft or hard substrate in a scanning electron microscopy (SEM) study. Three types of setae, found in all the worms examined, were consistently different across species, allowing us to compare setal distribution. However, neither distribution nor number of setae, or intersetal gap showed a clear dependence on substrate. Thus it appears that the morphology is not adapted to a specific substrate. This might be because both the parapodia and the setae serve multiple functions in the living animal. Location of the parapodium and the size of the intersetal gap showed some dependence on whether the atoke stage swims. However, neither the area of the parapodium nor of the setal bundles seems to relate to swimming. Phylogenetic relationships amongst the examined species, from three genera all in the subfamily Nereidinae, did not significantly influence either of the morphological parameters investigated. This study indicates that the morphology of the parapodia and setae of nereids is not adapted to any specific function, instead they are presumably important for a variety of tasks performed by the worms.


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