2. Bryozoan Biology, Taxonomy and Identification

Figure 1

Figure 1: Modern specimen of Cryptosula pallasiana (Moll 1803) showing (a) orifice, (b) operculum, (c) calcified frontal wall, (d) peristome and (e) avicularium

Bryozoans form colonies by budding, each colony originating with a primary individual known as an ancestrula (Ryland 1995, 629). Each unit of the colony is called a zooid, and each zooid comprises an outer protective case, the zooecium, and the internal living content, the polypide (Ryland 1962, 34). The colony is more than just a collection of individuals as it has individuality of its own. Two colonies of the same species will not fuse when they meet, whereas two branches of the same colony will (Ryland 1962, 34). Bryozoan colony size can vary from a few millimetres to huge masses weighing several kilograms (Francis 2001, 105).

Embryos develop within special brood-chambers called ovicells. The buds of freshwater bryozoans of the class Phylactolaemata detach from the colony and are encased in a capsule comprising two chitinous valves that may preserve very well and are often identifiable to species level, known as a statoblast (Francis 2001, 105). Statoblasts have a dorsal valve and ventral valve, and most have another chitinous layer, known as a periblast, which overlies the capsule and may form a gas-filled annulus that allows flotation (Mundy 1980, 9). Statoblasts that float are known as floatoblasts, and those that do not are sessoblasts. The Plumatellidae produce both floatoblasts and sessoblasts, while the Fredericellidae have only sessoblasts and the Lophopodidae and Cristatellidae have only floatoblasts (Mundy 1980, 9-10).

Figure 2

Figure 2: Bryozoan statoblast (floatoblast of Plumatella emarginata (Allman 1844), dorsal valve) from Walpole, Somerset, photographed in transmitted light

Bryozoans are suspension feeders that use a specialised feeding and respiratory organ called a lophophore, much like Brachiopoda and Phoronida. The lophophore is a U-shaped structure covered by ciliated tentacles that can be withdrawn into the zooecium or extended for feeding (Francis 2001, 105). When extended, the tentacles form a funnel with the mouth at its vertex (Ryland 1970, 43).

The oldest fossil bryozoans date from the Ordovician, although it is probable that soft-bodied, primitive bryozoans existed during the Cambrian (Benton and Harper 2009, 316). Bryozoans are the dominant contributors to temperate water marine carbonate deposits (Clarke 2009, 138), forming part of what has been termed 'bryomol' carbonate facies, alongside the shells of molluscs (Nelson 1988, table 1).

There are two classes of bryozoan in British marine waters: the Stenolaemata, which have long slender zooids with strongly calcified walls and contains one order, the Cyclostomatida; and Gymnolaemata, with cylindrical or squat zooids. There are two orders of Gymnolaemata, the Cheilostomatida and the uncalcified Ctenostomatida (Gibson et al. 2001, 321). The freshwater Phylactolaemata are also present in Britain.

Bryozoans are chiefly identified using skeletal characteristics such as spines and other surface structures as well as the form of the pores and the shape and size of the colonies (Smith 1995, 231). Archaeological specimens may be damaged, making identification to species level difficult. A complex nomenclature has arisen to describe bryozoans (see Ryland 1995, 629). Normal feeding zooids are known as autozooids, while specialised forms are called heterozooids. Commonly, bryozoans are squat and form an encrusting layer. Such bryozoans have a basal surface, applied to the substratum, as well as a frontal surface. This distinction also exists in free-standing colonies. The end of the zooid nearest to the origin of the colony is proximal, the farthest end being distal. The opening through which the polypide emerges is the orifice. This is situated near the distal end of the frontal membrane, and may be closed by an operculum. In some species, this is surrounded by a low ridge or tubular collar called the peristome. Avicularia are heterozooids found in some bryozoans that do not feed and are usually attached to an autozooid.

A simplified terminology is sometimes used in geology that allows non-specialists to describe growth form (Smith 1995, 231; Hageman et al. 1997, fig. 1). This is based on the mode of attachment to the substrate (cemented, rooted, unattached); colony construction; and colonial geometry (Hageman et al. 1997, 406). The form of zooids may reflect environment, as both zooid size and colony size decrease with depth (Smith 1995, 233), while encrusting forms of colonies tend to dominate over erect ones in shallow water, perhaps owing to increased physical and biological disturbance (Smith 1995, 234). Reconstructing past environmental conditions from bryozoan colony forms is not straightforward, however. The same form may occur in different environments; taphonomy may distort the preservation of different colony forms; and it is possible that environmental distributions of different colony forms have changed through time (Taylor 2005, 3).

Bryozoan abundance and species diversity are generally lower under stressful environmental conditions, with distributions most greatly affected by water temperature and phytoplankton availability (Smith 1995, 232). Stressful environments may produce greater variability in zooid form within a colony (Smith 1995, 234). Low species diversity is usual in estuaries (Smith 1995, 232), although some species are brackish water specialists.

Zooid form may also reflect changes in environmental conditions. In a 15-month survey of modern colonies of Conopeum seurati (Canu 1928) at Avonmouth Dock near Bristol, UK, O'Dea and Okamura (1999) found that zooid length, width and area were strongly related to temperature, with larger zooids being produced during winter months. Water salinity also affected zooid length and area, but not width. Bryozoan zooid size may be used to reconstruct past temperature regimes, though O'Dea and Okamura (1999, 586) note that because zooid size can also be influenced by genotypic factors, it is important that such studies are based on well-studied species and large datasets. Key advantages of performing such studies with bryozoans include the iteration of zooids and the fact that bryozoans are sessile and so reflect a single locality (O'Dea and Okamura 2000a). O'Dea and Okamura (2000a, 326) present an algebraic formula for assessing past mean annual range of temperature experienced by cheilostome bryozoan colonies based on the mean intra-colony coefficient of variation of zooid frontal area.

Certain taxa show morphological responses to specific environmental conditions. Zooids of Electra pilosa (Linnaeus 1767), for example, have been shown to grow an extended chitinous spine in high-energy environments (Bayer et al. 1997), although this is likely to be poorly preserved in archaeological specimens.

Colonies of Flustra foliacea (Linnaeus 1758) grow between March and September, and develop clearly defined growth check lines (GCLs) as a result of winter growth cessation. These have been used by O'Dea and Okamura (2000b) to investigate seasonal patterns of colony growth. They suggest that the GCLs can be used in association with measurement of zooid size (which is determined by temperature) for retrospective morphometric analyses to infer past environmental changes (O'Dea and Okamura 2000b, 1128).

Unlike other marine invertebrates, perhaps most notably Mollusca, no non-native species of bryozoan have been confirmed as present in British waters, although this is likely to result from an absence of evidence, as several species occur only in harbours and may be historical introductions. Bugula stolonifera (Ryland 1960) in particular is identified as likely to be a recent arrival (Eno et al. 1997, 8). Certain subspecies of Bowerbankia gracilis (Leidy 1855) might also be recent arrivals (Eno et al. 1997, 12). The non-native Bugula neritina (Linnaeus 1758) has been recorded in Britain, but was listed by Eno et al. (1997, table 2) as no longer established in the wild.


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