Some examples of symbiosis in lower metazoans and tunicates

Commensalistic associations

Sharing of food and the provision of shelter are two main features of commensalistic relationships. Many species that display commensalistic relationships inhabit the internal spaces of sponges, clams, and sea cucumbers. The symbionts are often smaller and more streamlined than their free-living relatives and show evidence of long-term associations. For example, there are crab and shrimp species that live in the mantle cavities of bivalve mollusks; the pearl fish, Corpus, shows both structural and behavioral modifications that adapted in order to live in the cloacal spaces of sea cucumbers. These adaptations include a dramatic shift of the anal opening to just beneath the head, and the loss of both scales and the pelvic fins. In tropical water the hat-pin urchin Diadema, with its long needle-like spines, provides protection to fish such as Aeoliscus (the shrimpfish) and Diademichthys (the clingfish). These elongated fish species hide among the host's spines, which are constantly moving, by orienting themselves parallel to the spines. Another common example of commensal-ism is the relationship that exists between fishes and jellyfish. Fishes of the family Nomeidae congregate among the tentacles of jellyfish for protection. The anemonefishes keep the surface of their host anemones free of debris and may also lure fishes into the tentacles, thus providing food to the host.


Marine sponges contain a variety of endosymbionts, including bacteria, dinoflagellates, diatoms, and cryptomonads. Symbionts are especially common among tropical sponges. Many sponges contain endosymbiotic cyanobacteria that are intercellular (in sponge tissue). The sponge obtains nutrients from the digestion of bacteria or from the excretion of compounds such as glycerol and nitrogen from bacteria. In turn the bacteria receives nutrients and a place to live.

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