Commensal scale-worms of the genus Branchipolynoe (Polychaeta: Polynoidae) at deep-sea hydrothermal vents and cold seeps

Pierre Chevaldonné, Didier Jollivet, Robert A. Feldman, Daniel Desbruyères, Richard A. Lutz, Robert C. Vrijenhoek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The polychaete family Polynoidae (scale worms) is very diverse, and particularly well represented worldwide at deep-sea hydrothermal vents, cold seeps, and at sites of decomposing organic matter such as whale carcasses, sunken wood or even experimentally-enriched substrates. To date, more than 40 species (placed in 7 different subfamilies) are described that are only known from such chemosynthetically-driven ecosystems, and many more undoubtedly still await discovery or formal description. Most species are free-living in a wide range of habitats: from high-temperature hydrothermal 'chimney' walls to peripheral habitats with little or no influence from the reduced fluids. In contrast with those free-living species, polynoids of the genus Branchipolynoe Pettibone, 1984 (placed in the monogeneric subfamily Branchipolynoinae) occur exclusively in the mantle cavity of Bathymodiolus-like mytilid bivalves. As opposed to most other polynoids, Branchipolynoe species have well-developed gills in a dorsal position that most likely represent a favourable adaptation to oxygen-depleted environments. The true nature of this 'symbiotic' association is still unclear, but a few facts are known that suggest that worms are opportunistic commensals specially adapted to their hosts: Pettibone (1984) pointed out some morphological features seemingly connected with commensalism, and the protection such a life habit must provide against the numerous predators present at vents and seeps; Desbruyeres et al. (1985) found bits of mussel gills and pseudofaeces in the worms' gut contents; finally, infestation rates vary from up to 6 individuals per host to none, and mussels are known to occur without the worm, but not the contrary (pers. obs.). No report exists yet on a possible negative effect of the worm on its host.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)347-350
Number of pages4
JournalCahiers de Biologie Marine
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Commensal scale-worms of the genus Branchipolynoe (Polychaeta: Polynoidae) at deep-sea hydrothermal vents and cold seeps'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this