Individual size, rate of growth, and mode and frequency of asexual reproduction are life-history traits of primary importance for sea anemones. These traits determine sexual reproductive output, affect an individual's probability of survival, and are crucial in adapting an individual to its environmental surroundings. The sea anemone Metridium senile (L.) is highly variable in ecological distribution and life history, including rate of growth, individual size, and rate of asexual reproduction. Gonad size (measured as cross-sectional area of gonadal tissue) increases with body weight, so individuals should grow as large and as rapidly as possible to maximize individual sexual reproductive output. Cessation of growth and small body size in intertidal populations suggest that growth is constrained by genetic or environmental conditions. The growth of intertidal individuals transplanted to harbor-float panels demonstrated that growth limits are imposed by environmental factors, most probably limited food and feeding time and damage from wave exposure (which stimulates fragmentation). Individuals in harbor-float populations, which are continuously immersed, grow much larger, and large individuals comprise a greater proportion of the population than in the intertidal zone. The highest rate of fragmentation observed was on harbor-float panels. Patterns of growth and asexual reproduction provide adaptive advantages for M. senile. For harborfloat individuals, large individual size increases gamete production and may increase feeding efficiency. For intertidal individuals, asexual reproduction allows growth despite individual size constraints and rapid population growth, with specific advantages resulting from clone formation.
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology