Regenerating structures critical for survival provide excellent model systems for the study of phenotypic plasticity. These body components must regenerate their morphology and functionality quickly while subjected to different environmental stressors. Sea urchins live in high-energy environments where hydrodynamic conditions pose significant challenges. Adhesive tube feet provide secure attachment to the substratum but can be amputated by predation and hydrodynamic forces. Tube feet display functional and morphological plasticity in response to environmental conditions, but regeneration to their pre-amputation status has not been achieved under quiescent laboratory settings. In this study, we assessed the effect of turbulent water movement, periodic emersion and quiescent conditions on the regeneration process of tube foot morphology (length, disc area) and functionality (maximum disc tenacity, stem breaking force). Disc area showed significant plasticity in response to the treatments; when exposed to emersion and turbulent water movement, disc area was larger than that of tube feet regenerated in quiescent conditions. However, no treatment stimulated regeneration to pre-amputation sizes. Tube foot length was unaffected by treatments and remained shorter than non-amputated tube feet. Stem breaking force for amputated and non-amputated treatments increased in all cases when compared with pre-amputation values. Maximum tenacity (force per unit area) was similar among tube feet subjected to simulated field conditions and amputation treatments. Our results suggest a role of active plasticity of tube foot functional morphology in response to field-like conditions and demonstrate the plastic response of invertebrates to laboratory conditions.

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