Sulphide mining by the superextensile foot of symbiotic thyasirid bivalves

Dufour, SC, Felbeck H.  2003.  Sulphide mining by the superextensile foot of symbiotic thyasirid bivalves. Nature. 426:65-67.

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adaptations, habitat, mollusks, transport


In a symbiotic association between an invertebrate host and chemoautotrophic bacteria, each partner has different metabolic requirements, and the host typically supplies the bacteria with necessary reduced chemicals ( sulphide or methane). Some combination of anatomical, physiological and behavioural adaptations in the host often facilitates uptake and transport of reduced chemicals to the symbionts(1-4). We have studied five species of bivalve molluscs of the family Thyasiridae ( that is, thyasirids) three of which harbour chemoautotrophic bacteria. Here we show that the symbiotic bivalves extend their feet to form elongated and ramifying burrows in the sediment, most probably to gain access to reduced sulphur. Closely related bivalves ( including some thyasirid species) without bacterial symbionts show no comparable foot extension behaviour. The length and number of burrows formed by chemosymbiotic thyasirids are related to the concentration of hydrogen sulphide in the sediment. The burrows are formed by the foot of each bivalve, which can extend up to 30 times the length of the shell, and may be the most extreme case of animal structure elongation documented to date.