‘Sea Bees’

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Pollination is not exclusively the province of bees and other pollinators, according to a new study.

Marine scientists found that a small woodlouse-like crustacean helps fertilize a type of red seaweed similar to the way land creatures do to terrestrial plants, New Scientist reported.

In their study, researcher Myriam Valero and her colleagues focused on the life cycle of the Gracilaria gracilis algae. The red seaweed can be either male or female during its life cycle, they explained.

Generally, water currents deliver spermatia – the algae’s version of sperm – to nearby a female’s reproductive organs, which would then create a bulb-shaped structure called a cystocarp.

But Valero’s team found that the Idotea balthica crustacean can boost this fertilization: In their experiments, they placed 20 creatures into an aquarium containing one male and one female seaweed. They also used tanks without crustaceans as a control experiment.

By measuring the number of cystocarps that developed on female seaweed, researchers observed that there were 20 times more fertilization events in the presence of the tiny crustaceans than in their absence.

They noted that spermatia attached to the legs and abdomen of the Idotea balthica and spread around as the marine animal moved from male to female seaweed.

While this is not the first instance of ‘sea bees,’ Valero suggested that animal-assisted pollination could have first started in the sea, rather than on land, as believed.

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