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, 82 (3), 481-510

Leave It All Behind: A Taxonomic Perspective of Autotomy in Invertebrates


Leave It All Behind: A Taxonomic Perspective of Autotomy in Invertebrates

Patricia A Fleming et al. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc.


Autotomy is defined herein as the shedding of a body part, where (1) the loss of the body part is defensive (autotomy helps prevent the whole animal from being compromised and is in response to external stimuli); (2) shearing occurs by an intrinsic mechanism along a breakage plane (there has been selection for certain body parts to be pulled off easily); and (3) the loss is controlled - the animal moves away from the trapped limb, the loss is under some form of central control (neural or hormonal), or the body part is detached quickly. Autotomy (under this defensive definition) has evolved independently for a diverse array of body parts in many taxa; we have summarised available information for over 200 invertebrate species. The advantages of autotomy include escape from entrapment, an effective form of attack, expulsion of an infected body part or in limiting wounding. We discuss how the incidence of autotomy may therefore be correlated with various traits such as limb function, sex differences, other defence mechanisms, habitat disturbance, and sociality. There are also costs associated with autotomy. Short-term costs include loss of a specialised appendage or organ, reduced speed and stability, or even death. Long-term costs include compromised foraging and feeding (often leading to reduced growth), altered anti-predator, competitive or reproductive behaviour, and even defective development. Regenerating lost appendages may also incur significant costs for the individual. We examine the costs and benefits of autotomy, and discuss the evolutionary selective pressures that contribute to the prevalence and effectiveness of autotomy in invertebrates.

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