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information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

A tubeworm (Owenia fusiformis)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.

Summary

Description

Owenia fusiformis is a thin, cylindrical, segmented worm, up to 10 cm long, that lives in a tough flexible tube buried in the sand with its anterior end just protruding from the surface. The tube is composed of sand grains or shell fragments glued together in an overlapping fashion. The body of the worm is greenish or yellowish and at the head end the mouth is surrounded by short, reddish, frilly lobes.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Widespread around British and Irish coasts.

Global distribution

Widely distributed in coastal regions throughout northwest Europe, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

Habitat

Found buried in sand or muddy sand, at or below low water, on fairly sheltered beaches.

Depth range

found from the intertidal down to 4,500 m

Identifying features

  • A slender tube-dwelling worm up to 10 cm in length.
  • Head region with tentacular crown.
  • Tube typically with shell fragments arranged like roof tiles.
  • Tubes may be so numerous that they bind the sand together, although many may be empty.
  • The worm is thin and yellowish or greenish in colour, with small, reddish, frilly lobes at the head end.

Additional information

No text entered

Listed by

- none -

Further information sources

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Biology review

Taxonomy

PhylumAnnelida
ClassPolychaeta
OrderSabellida
FamilyOweniidae
GenusOwenia
AuthorityDelle Chiaje, 1844
Recent Synonyms

Biology

Typical abundanceHigh density
Male size range30 - 100mm
Male size at maturity24 - 60mm
Female size range24 - 60mm
Female size at maturity
Growth formVermiform segmented
Growth rateSee additional information.
Body flexibilityHigh (greater than 45 degrees)
Mobility
Characteristic feeding methodActive suspension feeder, Surface deposit feeder
Diet/food sourcePlanktotroph
Typically feeds onPhytoplankton and particulate organic matter.
Sociability
Environmental positionInfaunal
DependencyNo information found.
SupportsNo information
Is the species harmful?No

Biology information

Owenia fusiformis can suspension feed by ciliary filter feeding or in low water flow can deposit feed by bending their flexible tube over so that the feeding crown touches the sediment surface (Rouse & Pleijel, 2001). This polychaete has a lifespan of up to four years in British waters (Rouse & Pleijel, 2001) and has a polymodal population structure of three to five year classes (Menard et al., 1990). The mortality rate increases gradually with age but suddenly increases in the fourth year of life (Menard et al., 1990). Growth is rapid in summer, slows in the autumn and is negligible in winter, resuming in April each year. The maximum recorded density was 4660 individuals per m² but this fluctuated over each year with mortality and massive larval settlement (Menard et al., 1990).

Habitat preferences

Physiographic preferencesOpen coast, Offshore seabed, Estuary
Biological zone preferencesBathybenthic (Bathyal), Lower eulittoral, Mid eulittoral, Sublittoral fringe
Substratum / habitat preferencesFine clean sand, Muddy sand, Sandy mud
Tidal strength preferencesWeak < 1 knot (<0.5 m/sec.)
Wave exposure preferences
Salinity preferencesFull (30-40 psu), Variable (18-40 psu)
Depth rangefound from the intertidal down to 4,500 m
Other preferencesNo text entered
Migration PatternNon-migratory / resident

Habitat Information

The cosmopolitan nature of Owenia fusiformis has been questioned by Koh & Bhaud (2001) who suggest a review of the Oweniidae because its taxonomy is now very old and more than one species may be included in Owenia fusiformis records.

Life history

Adult characteristics

Reproductive typeGonochoristic (dioecious)
Reproductive frequency Annual episodic
Fecundity (number of eggs)10,000-100,000
Generation time1-2 years
Age at maturity1 year
SeasonMay - June
Life span2-5 years

Larval characteristics

Larval/propagule type-
Larval/juvenile development Planktotrophic
Duration of larval stage11-30 days
Larval dispersal potential Greater than 10 km
Larval settlement periodInsufficient information

Life history information

Owenia fusiformis is an annual breeder, gonochoric, with external fertilization (Rouse & Pleijel, 2001). Up to 70,000 oocytes mature from September to April (Gentil et al., 1990) and are spawned during May and June (Rouse & Pleijel, 2001). Oocytes are up to 100 µm in diameter (Rouse & Pleijel, 2001). The sex ratio is female biased and is around 0.86:1. Maturity is size-dependent and all worms 60 mm long or more are mature but some individuals reach maturity at 24 mm. Some individuals may breed in their first year if they can grow fast enough (Gentil et al., 1990). In late May, larval densities can be up to 100,000 per m3 (Thiebaut et al., 1992) and settled densities vary from 4,000 to 15,000 juveniles per m² (Menard et al., 1990).

Sensitivity reviewHow is sensitivity assessed?

Physical pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
High High Moderate Very low
Owenia fusiformis is an infaunal organism and removal of the substratum is likely to also remove adults. Therefore an intolerance of high has been recorded. Due to high fecundity and the prevalence of allochthonous larval supply (Barnay et al., 2003), recovery of a population is likely to occur in less than a year.
Intermediate High Low Moderate
Owenia fusiformis in the intertidal and shallow subtidal are likely to be buried as a result of wave action disturbing sediments but can work their way back up to the surface in the flexible tube (Wells et al., 1981). Owenia fusiformis also occurs in areas where dredging spoil is deposited (Dauvin & Gillet, 1991). However, juveniles cannot construct tubes in sediments with a grain size <63 µm. Therefore, if a lot of clay and silt was deposited around a population of Owenia fusiformis recruits will not be able to construct tubes, juvenile mortality will be high, and an intolerance of intermediate has been recorded.
Tolerant* Not relevant Not sensitive* Moderate
Owenia fusiformis occurs in front of river outlets (Somaschini, 1993) and in areas where dredging spoil is dumped (Dauvin & Gillet, 1991), and therefore is probably tolerant of an increase in suspended sediment. Owenia fusiformis feeds on suspended organic matter. Therefore an increase in the concentration of phytoplankton and particulate organic matter is likely to be of benefit to Owenia fusiformis, and tolerant* has been recorded.
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive
Owenia fusiformis is a suspension feeder and deposit feeder (Rouse & Pleijel, 2001) but is not reliant on suspended sediment as such and is probably tolerant of a decrease in suspended sediment.
Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Very low
Owenia fusiformis occurs in the intertidal, however, it is infaunal and probably escapes the effects of desiccation due to interstitial water in the fine sediments it inhabits. If desiccation were to occur, intolerance would most likely be intermediate.
High High Moderate Very low
Owenia fusiformis is mostly found subtidally to abyssal depths but some are found intertidally. An increase in emergence would probably cause those towards the upper limit of distribution to succumb to starvation and/or desiccation. An intolerance of high has been recorded for individuals where emergence is relevant.
Tolerant* Not relevant Not sensitive*
As Owenia fusiformis is a mainly subtidal species, a decrease in emergence is unlikely to affect it and previously intertidal populations may actually increase in density and tolerant* has been recorded.
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low
Increase in water flow rate will most likely cause winnowing of the sediment, exposing tubes of Owenia fusiformis. However, Owenia fusiformis is found in front of river outlets in the Mediterranean and can be subject to a wide range of water velocities. The tubes of Owenia fusiformis can stabilize the sediment and reduce water movement related stresses on the benthos (Somaschini, 1993). Owenia fusiformis is probably tolerant to changes in water flow rate.
Intermediate High Low Moderate
A decrease in water flow rate is likely to cause an increase in siltation, however, Owenia fusiformis can migrate up through the sediment in their flexible tube (Wells et al., 1981). However, deposition of sediment with grain sizes <63 µm is likely to cause high mortality amongst recruits which cannot construct tubes in this sort of sediment. An intolerance of intermediate has been recorded to account for recruitment failure in silts and clays.
Low High Low Low
Owenia fusiformis is a cosmopolitan species and is found in waters from -1 to 30 °C (Dauvin & Thiebaut, 1994) globally. In the Bay of Seine, where there is a large population of Owenia fusiformis, the temperature varies between 5 and 20 °C (Gentil et al., 1990). Some stress may be caused to Owenia fusiformis by temperature changes and an intolerance of low has been recorded.
Low High Low Low
Owenia fusiformis is a cosmopolitan species and is found in waters from -1 to 30 °C (Dauvin & Thiebaut, 1994) globally. In the Bay of Seine, where there is a large population of Owenia fusiformis, the temperature varies between 5 and 20 °C (Gentil et al., 1990). Some stress may be caused to Owenia fusiformis due to temperature changes and an intolerance of low has been recorded.
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low
Owenia fusiformis feeds on suspended organic matter and phytoplankton. While an increased turbidity is likely to decrease phytoplankton productivity, it can also feed on organic particulates and is unlikely to be adversely affected. Therefore, tolerant has been recorded.
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive
A decrease in turbidity is likely to increase phytoplankton productivity and hence potentially augment its food supply. Therefore, tolerant has been recorded.
Intermediate High Low Very low
Wells et al., (1981) reported that Owenia fusiformis in the intertidal and shallow subtidal are likely to be buried as a result of wave action but can survive this by working its way up through the sediment in its flexible tube. However, the effect of being washed out of the sediment by wave action was not commented on. In this situation, Owenia fusiformis would probably have to rebury in the in the sediment and construct a new tube. This is unlikely to occur quickly enough to avoid predation by flatfish and opportunistic predators and intermediate has been recorded to account for the high mortality caused.
Intermediate Not relevant NR Low
A decrease in wave exposure is likely to cause increased siltation which adult Owenia fusiformis can probably survive (Dauvin & Gillet, 1991; Wells et al., 1981). However, juveniles cannot construct tubes in sediments with a grain size <63 µm. Therefore if there is a lot clay and silt deposited around a population of Owenia fusiformis recruits will not be able to construct tubes, juvenile mortality will be high, and an intolerance of intermediate has been recorded.
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Very low
Owenia fusiformis can probably detect vibrations in the water and sediment, which may reduce feeding activity but is likely to be tolerant of noise at the benchmark level.
Tolerant Immediate Not sensitive Very low
Owenia fusiformis has very simple eyes for light perception and therefore will not be affected by visual disturbance
Low High Low Low
Owenia fusiformis can be up to 10 cm in length (Hayward & Ryland, 1990) and its tubes up to 30 cm in length (Rouse & Pleijel, 2001). Therefore, a passing scallop dredge is likely to remove the anterior end, which can be regenerated (Gibbs et al., 2000), but not the whole worm. An intolerance of low has been recorded to account for this perturbation.
High High Moderate Very low
Adult Owenia fusiformis probably cannot construct new tubes once removed and therefore are probably highly intolerant to displacement.

Chemical pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
No information Not relevant No information Not relevant
No information was found on the effect of synthetic compounds on Owenia fusiformis.
Heavy metal contamination
Tolerant Very high Not sensitive Very low
Owenia fusiformis from the south coast of England were found to have loadings of 1335 µg copper per gram bodyweight and 784 µg zinc per gram bodyweight. The metals were bound in spherules within the cells of the gut (Gibbs et al., 2000). No mention was made of any ill effects of these concentrations of metal within the body and it is presumed that Owenia fusiformis is tolerant of heavy metal contamination.
Hydrocarbon contamination
No information Not relevant No information Not relevant
A few Owenia fusiformis were recorded in the subtidal sediments of the Pembrokeshire coast after the Sea Empress oil spill but whether densities had increased, decreased or remained the same was not recorded (Rutt et al., 1998). An intolerance to oil cannot be assessed for Owenia fusiformis on the basis of other polychaetes as some are tolerant to oil and others highly intolerant (Kingston et al., 1997).
Radionuclide contamination
No information Not relevant No information Not relevant
No information was found on the effect of radionuclides on Owenia fusiformis.
Changes in nutrient levels
Tolerant* Not relevant Not sensitive* Low
Increases in nutrient levels are likely to increase phytoplankton productivity, which would benefit Owenia fusiformis populations. Therefore tolerant* has been recorded.
No information Not relevant No information Not relevant
No information was found on the effects of hypersalinity on Owenia fusiformis.
Low High Low Low
Owenia fusiformis is found in front of river outlets in the Mediterranean (Somaschini, 1993) and English Channel (Gentil et al., 1990) and probably has a low intolerance to decreases in salinity.
Tolerant Immediate Not sensitive High
Owenia fusiformis is very tolerant of anoxia and can tolerate anaerobic conditions for up to 21 days by becoming quiescent (Dales, 1958) and therefore is tolerant to changes in oxygenation.

Biological pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
No information Not relevant No information Not relevant
No information was found on the effects of microbial pathogens on Owenia fusiformis.
No information Not relevant No information Not relevant
No information was found on the effects of alien species on Owenia fusiformis.
Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant
Owenia fusiformis is not known to be targeted for extraction.
Low Very high Very Low Low
Trawls and dredges may remove the anterior end of Owenia fusiformis but the worm regenerates lost ends (Gibbs et al., 2000) and an intolerance of low has been recorded.

Additional information

Owenia fusiformis has high individual fecundity and high population density. Larval life is long and there is often free exchange of larvae between populations. Spatfall is usually very dense, growth rapid and in optimal conditions, and Owenia fusiformis can reproduce in its first year. Recoverability of this species is likely to be high but variable in rate because wind driven currents and adult fecundity will determine larval supply to defaunated areas.

Importance review

Policy/legislation

- no data -

Status

Non-native

Importance information

-none-

Bibliography

  1. Barnay, A.S., Ellien, C., Gentil, F. & Thiebaut, E., 2003. A model study on variations in larval supply: are populations of the polychaete Owenia fusiformis in the English Channel open or closed? Helgoland Marine Research, 56, 229-237.

  2. Bruce, J.R., Colman, J.S. & Jones, N.S., 1963. Marine fauna of the Isle of Man. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

  3. Dales, R.P., 1957. The feeding mechanism and structure of the gut of Owenia fusiformis Delle Chiaje. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 36, 81-89.

  4. Dales, R.P., 1958. Survival of anaerobic periods by two intertidal polychaetes, Arenicola marina (L.) and Owenia fusiformis Delle Chiaje. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 37, 521-529.

  5. Dauvin, J.C. & Gillet, P., 1991. Spatio-temporal variability in population structure of Owenia fusiformis Delle Chiaje (Annelida: Polychaeta) from the Bay of Seine (eastern English Channel). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 152, 105-122.

  6. Dauvin, J.C. & Thiebaut, E., 1994. Is Owenia fusiformis Delle Chiaje a cosmopolitan species? Memoires du Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, 162, 383-404.

  7. Fauchald, K., 1977. The polychaete worms. Definitions and keys to the orders, families and genera. USA: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

  8. Gentil, F., Dauvin, J.C. & Menard, F., 1990. Reproductive biology of the polychaete Owenia fusiformis Delle Chiaje in the Bay of Seine (eastern English Channel). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 142, 13-23.

  9. Gibbs, P.E., Burt, G.R., Pascoe, P.L., Llewellyn, C.A. & Ryan K.P., 2000. Zinc, copper and chlorophyll-derivates in the polychaete Owenia fusiformis. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 80, 235-248.

  10. Hayward, P., Nelson-Smith, T. & Shields, C. 1996. Collins pocket guide. Sea shore of Britain and northern Europe. London: HarperCollins.

  11. Hayward, P.J. & Ryland, J.S. (ed.) 1995b. Handbook of the marine fauna of North-West Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  12. Hayward, P.J. & Ryland, J.S. 1990. The marine fauna of the British Isles and north-west Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  13. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  14. JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee), 1999. Marine Environment Resource Mapping And Information Database (MERMAID): Marine Nature Conservation Review Survey Database. [on-line] http://www.jncc.gov.uk/mermaid

  15. Kingston, P.F., Dixon, I.M.Y., Hamilton, S., Moore, C.G. & Moore, D.C., 1997. Studies on the response of intertidal and subtidal marine benthic communities to the Braer oil spill. In J.M. Davies & G. Topping, (Ed.) The impact of an oil spill in turbulent waters: The Braer. p. 209-253. Edinburgh: Stationary Office.

  16. Koh, B.S. & Bhaud, M., 2001. Description of Owenia gomsoni n. sp. (Oweniidae, Annelida, Polychaeta) from the Yellow Sea and evidence that Owenia fusiformis is not a cosmopolitan species. Vie et Millieu, 51, 77-86.

  17. Menard, F., Gentil, F. & Dauvin, J.C., 1990. Population dynamics and secondary production of Owenia fusiformis Delle Chiaje (Polychaeta) from the Bay of Seine (eastern English Channel). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 133, 151-167.

  18. Picton, B.E. & Costello, M.J., 1998. BioMar biotope viewer: a guide to marine habitats, fauna and flora of Britain and Ireland. [CD-ROM] Environmental Sciences Unit, Trinity College, Dublin., http://www.itsligo.ie/biomar/

  19. Pinedo, S., Sarda, R., Rey, C. & Bhaud, M., 2000. Effect of sediment particle size on recruitment of Owenia fusiformis in the Bay of Blanes (NW Mediterranean Sea): an experimental approach to explain field distribution. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 203, 205-213.

  20. Rouse, G.W. & Pleijel, F., 2001. Polychaetes. New York: Oxford University Press.

  21. Rutt, G.P., Levell, D., Hobbs, G., Rostron, D.M., Bullimore, B., Law, R.J. & Robinson, A.W., 1998. The effects on the marine benthos. In R. Edwards & H. Sime, (Ed.) The Sea Empress oil spill. p.189-206. Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management.

  22. Somaschini, A., 1993. A Mediterranean fine-sand polychaete community and the effect of the tube-dwelling Owenia fusiformis Delle Chiaje on community structure. Internationale Revue de Gesamten Hydrobiologie, 78, 219-233.

  23. Thiebaut, E., Dauvin, J.C. & Lagadeuc, Y., 1992. Transport of Owenia fusiformis larvae (Annelida: Polychaeta) in the Bay of Seine. I. Vertical distribution in relation to water column stratification and ontogenic vertical migration. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 80, 29-39.

  24. Wells, R.M.G., Dales, R.P. & Warren, L.M., 1981. Oxygen equilibrium characteristics of the erythrocruorin (extracellular haemoglobin) from Owenia fusiformis Delle Chiaje (Polychaeta: Oweniidae). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, A, 70A, 111-114.

  25. Wilson, D.P., 1932. On mitraria larva of Owenia fusiformis Delle Chiaje. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 221, 231-334.

  26. Yonow, N., 1989. Feeding observations on Acteon tornatilis (Linnaeus) (Opisthobranchia: Acteonidae). Journal of Molluscan Studies, 55, 97-102.

Citation

This review can be cited as:

Neal, K.J. & Avant, P. 2008. Owenia fusiformis A tubeworm. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. Available from: http://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/detail/1703

Last Updated: 17/04/2008