McHenry, M.J. and S.N. Patek. 2004. The evolution of larval morphology and swimming performance in ascidians. Evolution 58(6):1209-1224.
The complexity of organismal function challenges our ability to understand the evolution of animal locomotion. To meet this challenge, we used a combination of biomechanics, phylogenetic comparative analyses, and theoretical morphology to examine evolutionary changes in body shape and how those changes affected swimming performance in ascidian larvae. Results of phylogenetic comparative analyses suggest that coloniality evolved at least three times among ascidians and that colonial species have a convergent larval morphology characterized by a large trunk volume and shorter tail length in proportion to the trunk. To explore the functional significance of this evolutionary change, we first verified the accuracy of a mathematical model of swimming biomechanics in a solitary (C. intestinalis) and a colonial (D. occidentalis) species and then ran numerous simulations of the model that varied in tail length and trunk volume. The results of these simulations were used to construct landscapes of speed and cost of transport predictions within a trunk volume/tail length morphospace. Our results suggest that the reduction of proportionate tail length in colonial species resulted in improved energetic economy of swimming. The increase in the size of larvae with the origin of coloniality facilitated faster swimming with negligible energetic cost, but may have required a reduction in adult fecundity. Therefore, the evolution of ascidians appears to be influenced by a trade-off between the fecundity of the adult stage and the swimming performance of larvae.