Monthly Archives: September 2018

Friday Fellow: Giant Clam

by Piter Kehoma Boll

One more giant is coming to our team, again from the sea, but this time from the bilvavian molluscs. Its name is Tridachna gigas, commonly known as the giant clam.

Found in shallow coral reefs of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, especially around Indonesia, the giant clam can grow up to about 1.2 m, weigh more than 200 kg and live more than 100 years, being the largest living bivalve mollusk.

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The giant clam is seen in coral reefs as a giant lump of molluscan material. Watch out, Dory! Photo by flickr user incidencematrix.*

One interesting aspect of the giant clam and its close relatives is that they live in a symbiotic association with some dinoflagellates (the so-called zoxanthellae, also found in corals), having even a special structure, the zooxanthellal tubular system, to house them. During the day, the giant clam exposes its mantle to the light in order to allow the algae to photosynthesize. Part of the nutrients produced by the algae are given to the clam. This allows the giant clam to survive in otherwise nutrient-poor environments, where its standard bivalvian feeding stile, by filtering partiles from the water, would not be enought to allow it to grow properly.

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A half-closed shell. Photo by The Central Intelligence Agency.

The giant clam is used as food in many Asian countries, especially Japan and countries from Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands. Additionally, the giant shell is considered a valuable decorative item and can be sold for large amounts of money. Due to such exploitations, the giant clam populations are starting to decline and the species is considered vulnerable by the IUCN.

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An empty shell exposed in Aquarium Finisterrae, Galicia, Spain. Photo by Wikimedia user Drow male.**

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References:

Klumpp, D. W., Bayne, B. L., & Hawkins, A. J. S. (1992). Nutrition of the giant clam Tridacna gigas (L.) I. Contribution of filter feeding and photosynthates to respiration and growth. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 155(1), 105–122. doi:10.1016/0022-0981(92)90030-e

Norton, J. H., Shepherd, M. A., Long, H. M., & Fitt, W. K. (1992). The Zooxanthellal Tubular System in the Giant Clam. The Biological Bulletin, 183(3), 503–506. doi:10.2307/1542028

Wells, S. (1996). Tridacna gigas. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.1996.RLTS.T22137A9362283.en. Access on September 1, 2018.

Wikipedia. Giant clam. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_clam >. Access on September 1, 2018.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Friday Fellow: Ehux

by Piter Kehoma Boll

We’ll continue among the unicellular marvels of the sea this week. This time our fellow is another member of a poorly known but hugely important group of protists, the coccolithophores.

The coccolithophores are a group of unicellular algae of the marine phytoplankton that is characterized by a series of calcium carbonate plates, called coccoliths, that cover their body, making them look like cells covered by scales.

Today we’ll know the most widespread and abundant species of this group, Emiliania huxleyi, usually simply called Ehux, which I will use here as its common name.

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Scanning elctron micrograph cell of Emiliania huxleyi covered by coccoliths. Credits to Alison R. Taylor.*

Ehux is found in the oceans all around the world, being absent only close to the poles. According to the fossil record, this species appeared about 270 thousand years ago, but became the dominant coccolithophore only anout 70 thousand years ago. Due to its abundance, Ehux is an important species controling global climate. As a photosynthetic organism, it helps to increase atmospheric oxygen and decrease carbon dioxide. Additionally, the fact that its cell is covered by calcium carbonate plates increases even more its importance in removing CO2 from the atmosphere. By capturing CO2 as calcium carbonate, Ehux send it directly to the ocean floor when it dies and the shell sinks.

The life cycle of Ehux is not yet completely understood, but includes at least two different cell forms. The C form is spherical, nonmotile and covered by coccoliths (hence the name C) and can reproduce asexually by fission. Another form, called S (scaly) lacks coccoliths but is covered by a group of organic scales. This form is motile, swimming using two flagella, and also reproduces asexually by fission. How one form turns into the other is unclear, but there are some evidences that the C form is diploid and the S form is haploid, so C cells could turn into S cells by meiosis and two S cells could act as gametes and fuse to produce a new C cell. A third form, called N (naked) cell is similar to a C cell but is unable to produce the coccoliths. It is assumed that they appear by a mutation of C cells that makes them lose the ability to produce coccoliths, as N cells never change back to the C form.

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A bloom of Ehux south of Great Britain as seen from a sattelite photo. Credits to NASA.

During some special conditions, such as high irradiance, ideal temperatures and nitrogen-rich waters, Ehux populations can cause blooms which extend over large portions of the ocean. This species is known as a producer of Dimethyl Sulphide (DMS), a flammable liquid that boils at 37°C and has a characteristic smell usually called “sea smell” or “cabbage smell”. The release of DMS in the atmosphere interferes in cloud formation, so that this is one more way by which Ehux influences global climate.

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References:

Paasche E (2002) Paasche, E. (2001). A review of the coccolithophorid Emiliania huxleyi (Prymnesiophyceae), with particular reference to growth, coccolith formation, and calcification-photosynthesis interactions. Phycologia 40(6), 503–529. doi:10.2216/i0031-8884-40-6-503.1

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Filed under Algae, Friday Fellow, protists