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Fragmentation in plants, Animals, Fungi and Lichens, Disadvantages and Advantages of Fragmentation, Fragmentation vs Regeneration, Practice Problems, and FAQs

Fragmentation in plants, Animals, Fungi and Lichens, Disadvantages and Advantages of Fragmentation, Fragmentation vs Regeneration, Practice Problems, and FAQs

You all have seen lizards. When they feel threatened, what will they do? Yes, lizards do the voluntary self-amputation of the tail as a defence mechanism when they feel threatened by the predator. This loss of the tail is intended to distract and confuse the predator, which will allow the lizard to escape from the predator. This phenomenon is commonly called caudal autotomy. The lizards are capable of growing its tail if lost by the process of partial regeneration. 

                                  Fig: Caudal autotomy in lizards

Now you understand that autotomy of body parts is a means of escaping predation which is shown by a number of animal groups. For example, starfish show autotomy. It regenerates their limbs if lost due to predation. These are common examples of partial regeneration. When an organism tries to grow back a lost limb or any other body part, this process is known as partial regeneration. But certain organisms show fragmentation also. 

There is a common confusion between regeneration and fragmentation. This is because both are similar enough. But, in fragmentation, an organism breaks into different fragments, and each fragment will grow into a separate individual. This is a type of asexual reproduction. As shown below it is shown by certain species of starfishes. Hence starfishes show regeneration and autotomy.

              GIF: Fragmentation and autotomy in starfish

Can you give some more examples for organisms in which fragmentation takes place? Yes, earthworms are an example. Let’s understand fragmentation in depth in this article and try to find out more examples of organisms showing fragmentation from our surroundings. 

Table of contents


Fragmentation is the process in which the body of the parent may break into some pieces and each piece develops into a whole animal. It is considered as a method of asexual reproduction. Common examples include cyanobacteria, Fungi, many plants, and animals such as flatworms, sponges, some annelid worms, and starfishes. It is also known as a splitting technique of reproduction as the process of fragmentation involves the breakage of an organism into various fragments that over time get developed into a complete organism. 

                              Fig: Fragmentation in Hydra

Characteristics of fragmentation

The following are the common characteristics of fragmentation:

  • Each of the fragments formed after going through the cycle of growth develops into a mature, fully-grown individual in this process.
  • The newly formed individuals by fragmentation will be identical to its parent with respect to size, shape and other dimensions.
  • Fragmentation can occur both intentionally and unintentionally. 
  • It is a method of asexual reproduction.
  • It is a method to escape from predators.

Types of fragmentation

Fragmentation is mainly of two types as follows:

Intentional fragmentation

Fragmentation may occur as a result of natural harm, such as damage brought on by predators. Then it is called intentional fragmentation. For example, starfishes once they feel threatened by the predator they break off their limbs and escape. The fragmented arm in some species of the starfishes after some time develops into a new starfish . 

                                  GIF: Fragmentation in starfish

Unintentional fragmentation

In this case environmental changes or anthropogenic actions may cause the organism to fragment and eventually develop into complete and mature organisms. The newly formed organisms are similar to the parent in this process. For example, a person jumps into a river and breaks off the algal filaments. Then some of these broken algal filaments move along with the water currents and establish a new colony in some other part of the river. 

                                     Fig: Fragmentation in Spirogyra alga

Fragmentation in plants

In plants, fragmentation is a type of vegetative propagation. Many non woody perennials, trees, shrubs, ferns, and bushes show this method of vegetative propagation. In plants, mostly the diameter of their colonies is increased by producing new root and shoot systems via the dispersion of stolons or rhizomes from the old trees, shrubs, ferns, and perennials. Thus, once the root is detached from the parent colony, it tends to grow on its own thus giving rise to a completely new root system. 

Examples of fragmentation in plants

The following are few examples of fragmentation in the Kingdom Plantae:

Fragmentation in woody plants

Higher plants like willow trees or Salix shed twigs under the appropriate environmental conditions. These twigs once fall on the ground may develop into a new plant. This phenomenon of natural shedding of twigs is called cladoptosis.

                                         Fig: Willow tree

Fragmentation in runners, stolons and offsets

Fragmentation occurs in runners, stolons and offsets also. Runner is a type of subaerial stem modification. It is usually found in the grasses. Stolon is a shoot that grows along the ground and produces roots at its nodes. Offset is a short prostrate shoot that takes root and produces a tuft of leaves. If a rooted branch separates from the parent plant, it develops into a new plant in runners, stolons and offsets. For example, spider grass, Eichornia (water hyacinth) and peppermint. 

                                                    Fig: Peppermint

Fragmentation in algae

Certain algae also asexually reproduce by the process of fragmentation. For example, filamentous algae like Spirogyra, reproduce by breaking themselves into fragments and each fragment develops into a new organism. 

                                           Fig: Fragmentation in algae

Fragmentation in mosses and liverworts

The process of fragmentation occurs frequently in nonvascular plants as well, such as mosses and liverworts. Moss fragments are transported by the wind, animals, or even water. Once the moss fragment finds a suitable environment, it will begin to root and grow into a new plant. 

                                      Fig: Mosses (Funaria)

Fragmentation by anthropogenic action

By the artificial vegetative propagative methods like grafting, cutting, layering, and micropropagation, humans artificially proliferate plants. All the above methods involve fragmentation. Fragments of stem and storage organs like corms, rhizomes, and tubers can be used for artificially propagating a variety of plants. 


The technique of joining parts of two different plants so that they grow as one or a composite plant is called grafting. The part of the graft that becomes the supporting portion is called the stock and the part which gives rise to the upper portion is termed scion. This method is commonly used for economic benefits. For example, grafting is done on the stock of wild rose with the scion from an ornamental rose. 

                   Fig: Grafting


The division of portions of any plant organs such as root, leaf, or stem used for vegetative propagation is called cutting. Stem cuttings are used most commonly by planters. For example, rose plants. 

                                     Fig: Artificial vegetative propagation by cutting in rose plants


In this method of artificial vegetative propagation, roots are induced on a stem branch, before it is detached from the parent plant. Examples include jasmine. 

                             Fig: Artificial vegetative propagation by layering


Plant tissue culture is the technique of maintaining and growing plant cells, tissues or organs on artificial medium in suitable containers under the controlled environmental conditions. Examples include micropropagation of banana plants. Micropropagation is the process of multiplication of plant material by growing plantlets in tissue culture to produce a large number of progeny plants and then planting them out.

                Fig: Tissue culture

Fragmentation in animals

Fragmentation is a type of asexual reproduction in certain animals. Examples are discussed below: 

Fragmentation in phylum Porifera

Lower animals of the phylum Porifera reproduce by fragmentation. In fragmentation, the parent colony breaks off and forms a new colony. The fragments of sponges are detached by water currents or waves. These fragments then reattach to a suitable surface using the mobility of their pinacocytes and choanocytes and the reshaping of the mesohyl layer, and over the course of time, they recreate themselves as small and useful sponges. It can also be done by anthropogenic action. 

                                       Fig: Fragmentation in phylum Porifera

Fragmentation in phylum Cnidaria

Lower animals like coral colonies reproduce asexually through two methods, one is budding and the other is fragmentation. In fragmentation, the parent colony of coral branches off and forms a new colony. This process occurs if a part of the colony is broken off from the main colony due to a storm or any other natural disasters. It can also be done by anthropogenic action. Fragmentation is shown by Hydra also. 

                   Fig: Fragmentation in Hydra

Fragmentation in phylum Platyhelminthes

The process of fragmentation happens when a flatworm tears off a piece of its body and allows the detached piece to grow into a new worm. Examples include Planaria

                                          Fig: Fragmentation in flatworms

Fragmentation in phylum Annelida

Certain members of the phylum Annelida spontaneously fragments into five to 10 pieces. Each fragment grows a new head and tail. Rarely a fragment will grow heads at both ends. Then it is called a bipolar worm. Examples include earthworms. 

Fragmentation in Fungi

Moulds, yeasts, and mushrooms are examples of different types of fungi that exhibit fragmentation. They divide via fragmentation and use a particular structure known as hyphae for this purpose. Hypha is called the body of the fungus. Hyphae are described as the branching filaments or finger-like projections that collectively make the mycelium of a fungus. Hyphae receive food and other resources from the parent fungus body throughout their life cycle. Reproductive hyphae eventually develop, reach maturity, and prepare for fertilisation. A fragment of the hyphae separates from the parent body and begins to grow into a separate body in fragmentation. The fragments formed eventually reach maturity and continue the cycle.

                                   Fig: Fragmentation in Fungi

Fragmentation in lichens

Lichen is an association of algae (phycobiont) and fungi (mycobiont). It is made up of hyphae of many species of fungi. Here the fungi live in a mutualistic relationship with algae or cyanobacteria. The lichen has different characteristics as compared to the organisms that make it. The thallus of lichens breaks into pieces accidentally and each piece develops into a new organism. 

                                            Fig: Lichen

Methods of fragmentation

There is a widespread use of the terms paratomy and architomy when splitting or fragmentation occurs as a result of specific developmental processes.


In paratomy, the animal would divide into two halves at a certain point, and each piece would have its own tissues and organs. The split takes place in the posterior section, perpendicular to the antero-posterior axis, and is preceded by the ‘regeneration’ of the anterior structures. The two organisms develop from head to tail, with their body axes aligned. 


When an organism undergoes architomy, it divides into numerous parts that eventually grow into mature organisms. 

                        Fig: Architomy in Hydra

Disadvantages of Fragmentation

There are some disadvantages of this mode of asexual reproduction and are enlisted below:

  • Hinders diversity
  • Heritage problems
  • Lead to extinction
  • Population outbreak

Hinders diversity

Asexual reproduction would reduce the genetic diversity of future generations because offspring inherit the genes and traits of only one parent as it is uniparental. The population of the organism stays genetically the same as a result of this. On the contrary, in sexual reproduction, the gene pools are mixed to ensures diversity. 

Heritage problems

This type of asexual reproduction always requires only one type of parent. The chromosomes and genes are copied from one parent to the offspring. The offspring would always carry the mutations present in the parent. This disadvantage may potentially result in the accumulation of a lot more harmful mutations that make asexually producing organisms prone to illness, which would also result in the death of a lot of offspring too.

Lead to extinction

We can infer that a certain parasite or predator that has developed to kill a specific asexual creature would be able to wipe out its whole population because all the same traits and characteristics also involve all the same weaknesses.

Population outbreak

Each creature has a great capacity for asexual reproduction which means that its population can even double during each reproductive cycle. However, researchers have discovered that the process would come to an end when the quantity of them reached an unreasonable level.

Advantages of fragmentation 

The advantages of fragmentation are discussed below:

  • Fragmentation is a type of asexual reproduction that involves only one parent. Therefore, there is no need of mating with male and female parents and this ultimately requires less time as compared to sexual reproduction.
  • It is a very fast process of reproduction and due to which a large number of offspring are produced in a very short time span.

Fragmentation vs Regeneration

The two words regeneration and fragmentation are commonly used in asexual reproduction. The process of fragmentation occurs when an organism is broken into smaller parts or fragments. Each fragment then develops into separate identical organisms. Partial regeneration is a process in which the organism is capable of regrowing the lost body parts. We can say that new organisms are formed following fragmentation but new organs or lost parts are formed during regeneration unless it is true regeneration. We know that all organisms including higher animals like human beings are able to regenerate at least some part of their lost body parts. But there are only a few organisms which have the capacity to reproduce through the method of fragmentation. The process of partial regeneration can be commonly found in octopus and lizards. True regeneration occurs in Planaria. True regeneration is the process of formation of a complete new individual from a small body piece.

                                     Fig: Fragmentation vs regeneration

Practice Problems

Q 1. How can a person define fragmentation and name one plant in which this mode of reproduction occurs?

Answer: Fragmentation is a type of asexual reproduction in which an organism breaks into pieces and each piece is capable enough to develop into a new organism. An example is the algae Spirogyra that reproduces through fragmentation. 

Q 2. What type of asexual reproduction does the Hydra use to reproduce?

a. Binary fission
b. Fragmentation
c. Budding
d. Both b and c

Answer: Hydra can reproduce through both methods, budding, and fragmentation. An outgrowth forms on the parent body of the Hydra as a result of repetitive cell division at one particular location. This growth is referred to as a bud. These buds expand and become small individuals as they grow. The bud separates from the parent body and becomes a new, independent entity after it has reached complete maturity. In fragmentation, the body of the Hydra breaks into distinct pieces called fragments. Each fragment grows into an adult Hydra which is capable of producing offspring. Hence, the correct option is d.

Q 3. Identify the incorrect statement about asexual reproduction.

a. It is common in multicellular organisms
b. A single parent is involved in producing offspring
c. The offsprings produced are identical
d. Binary fission is one of the types of asexual reproduction.

Answer: Asexual mode of reproduction is commonly seen in single-celled organisms, in plants and animals that have a simple level of organisation. Only a single parent (uniparental) is involved in producing offspring in asexual reproduction and therefore, they are not only identical to one another but are exact copies of their parents. Hence, the correct option is a.

Q 4. An organism divides its body into numerous pieces, and each piece later grows into a new individual. Identify the organism and mode of reproduction.

a. Hydra - Budding
b. Spirogyra - Fragmentation
c. Amoeba - Binary fission
d. Penicillium - Conidiospores

Answer: Fragmentation is an asexual reproductive method. When an organism divides its body into fragments and each fragment grows into a new organism. Then this process is known as fragmentation. Spirogyra, or flatworms, are known to engage in this sort of asexual reproduction. Hence, the correct option is b.


Q 1. Why is fragmentation not occurring in all organisms?
Answer: Fragmentation is common in single-celled organisms and in plants and animals that have a simple level of organisation. All multicellular animals do not exhibit fragmentation because many multicellular organisms do not consist of a random collection of cells. They possess specific tissues and organs to perform each function. The formation of cells, tissues and organs requires specialised processes that cannot be done easily by any simple methods in them. 

Q 2. How can a person differentiate fragmentation from regeneration?
Answer: Fragmentation is one of the methods of the asexual reproduction in which an organism breaks into different pieces and each piece is capable enough to develop into a new organism. On the other hand, regeneration happens when an organism regrows certain parts or limbs which are lost. It always will not result in the formation of a complete organism from the broken part. 

Q 3. What are the two advantages of fragmentation type of asexual reproduction?
Answer: Firstly, fragmentation is an asexual mode of reproduction and therefore, involves only one parent. Secondly, it is a fast process of reproduction that produces a high number of individuals in a very short period.

Q 4. What is the difference between binary fission and fragmentation?
Answer: Binary fission is a type of asexual reproduction where a single-celled organism divide into two roughly equal parts and each piece develop into new organism. Examples include Amoeba. Fragmentation is the process of the division of the body of organisms into pieces or fragments. Each piece then develops into a new organism. Binary fission occurs most commonly in unicellular organisms.

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Related Topics

An Overview of Cell: classification, structure, functions, Practice problems and FAQs

Vegetative propagation: Natural and Artificial (Cutting, Layering and Grafting) methods, Advantages of vegetative propagation, Practice Problems and FAQs

Sexual Reproduction in Plants, Practice Problems, and FAQs

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