Fusion trials between metamorphs of the aplousobranch compound ascidian Diplosoma listerianum indicated that chimera formation was not dependent on relatedness. Similar, high rates of union were observed between full siblings, half siblings, unrelated individuals from the same population, and individuals from two geographically distant localities. This is in contrast to the well–studied ascidian genus Botryllus, in which a highly polymorphic allorecognition system governing the fusion–non–fusion reaction (colony specificity) largely limits fusion to close relatives. Fusion in Botryllus establishes a vascular chimera throughout which stem cells may circulate, promoting cell lineage competition between the fusion partners. The restriction of fusion to close kin in Botryllus is thought to reduce the inclusive fitness costs of competitive interactions between cell lineages within the chimera. In contrast to Botryllus, modules (zooids) of a D. listerianum colony are not interlinked by blood vessels, seemingly precluding the exchange of stem cells. The apparent absence of strict colony specificity in D. listerianum is thus in keeping with the predictions of the Botryllus model for the maintenance of allorecognition polymorphism.
However, colony specificity has been reported in other species of aplousobranch ascidian that also lack a common vascular system. In these, the threat of migrating blood–borne stem cells cannot be responsible for the presence of colony specificity. One possibility, requiring experimental investigation, is that stem cells could perhaps migrate between zooids by another route, such as through the matrix of the colonial tunic. Even in the absence of stem cell exchange, cheating on the costs of colony maintenance and defence could also produce selective forces favouring colony specificity. In compound ascidians, this could involve unequal contribution to extrazooidal structures, principally the tunic and related tissues. This consideration seems potentially relevant to the lack of discrimination during fusion in D. listerianum, since extrazooidal somatic investment in this species appears minimal, severely limiting the scope for this other form of cheating.
The various possible modes of exploitative interaction between fused colonies are not mutually exclusive, and offer fundamentally similar explanations for colony specificity. If none of them can be shown to occur in non–botryllid species possessing colony specificity, the generality of the Botryllus model may require re–evaluation.