Environmental and biological cues for spawning in the crown-of-thorns starfish.
ABSTRACT: Sporadic outbreaks of the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish are likely to be due, at least in part, to spatial and temporal variation in reproductive and settlement success. For gonochoric and broadcast spawning species such as crown-of-thorns starfish, spawning synchrony is fundamental for achieving high rates of fertilization. Highly synchronized gamete release within and among distinct populations is typically the result of the entrainment of neurohormonal endogenous rhythms by cues from the environment. In this study, we conducted multiple spawning assays to test the effects of temperature change, reduced salinity and nutrient enrichment of seawater, phytoplankton, gametes (sperm and eggs), and the combined effect of sperm and phytoplankton on the likelihood of spawning in male and female crown-of-thorns starfish. We also investigated sex-specific responses to each of these potential spawning cues. We found that (1) abrupt temperature change (an increase of 4°C) induced spawning in males, but less so in females; (2) males often spawned in response to the presence of phytoplankton, but none of the females spawned in response to these cues; (3) the presence of sperm in the water column induced males and females to spawn, although additive and synergistic effects of sperm and phytoplankton were not significant; and (4) males are more sensitive to the spawning cues tested and most likely spawn prior to females. We propose that environmental cues act as spawning 'inducers' by causing the release of hormones (gonad stimulating substance) in sensitive males, while biological cues (pheromones) from released sperm, in turn, act as spawning 'synchronizers' by triggering a hormonal cascade resulting in gamete shedding by conspecifics. Given the immediate temporal linkage between the timing of spawning and fertilization events, variability in the extent and synchronicity of gamete release will significantly influence reproductive success and may account for fluctuations in the abundance of crown-of-thorns starfish.
Project description:Aim. External fertilisation requires synchronisation of gamete release between the two sexes. Adequate synchronisation is essential in aquatic media because sperm is very short-lived in water. In the cichlid Lamprologus callipterus, fertilisation of the eggs takes place inside an empty snail shell, where females stay inside the shell and males have to ejaculate into the shell opening. This spawning pattern makes the coordination of gamete release difficult. Methods. This study examined the synchronisation of males and females during egg laying. Results. The results showed that the male initiates each spawning sequence and that sperm release and egg laying are very well synchronised. 68% of all sperm releases occurred at exactly the same time when the female laid an egg, and 99% of ejaculations occurred within ±5 seconds from egg deposition. On average 95 eggs are laid one by one with intervals of several minutes between subsequent eggs, leading to a total spawning duration in excess of six hours. Conclusions. We discuss this exceptional spawning pattern and how it might reflect a conflict between the sexes, with males attempting to induce egg laying and females extending the egg laying period to raise the chance for parasitic males to participate in spawning.
Project description:A mismatch in synchrony between male and female gamete release in external fertilizers can result in reduced or failed fertilization, sperm competition, and reduced paternity. In Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus), males can adopt either a guard or sneak tactic resulting in both pre- and postcopulatory competition between males with alternative reproduction tactics. Here, spawning behavior of free-living Arctic charr was video-recorded, and their reproductive behavior was analyzed. From evaluating 157 spawning events, we observed that females mainly spawned with a guarding male and that the female and the guarding male synchronized timing of gamete release under sperm competition. Although sneakers spawned with higher synchrony than the guarding male in single-male spawning events, the average sneaker released his milt less synchronized with the female than the guarding male under sperm competition. Approximately 50% of the recorded spawning events occurred under sperm competition, where each event included an average of 2.7 males. Additionally, sneakers were more exposed to sperm competition than guarding males. An influx of males, in close proximity to the female, occurred during the behavioral sequences leading up to egg release, but this influx seemed not dependent on egg release, suggesting that something else than gonadal product attracts sneaker males to the spawning female. Just before and during the actual release of gametes, the spawning couple vibrates their bodies in close contact and it seems likely that this vibrational communication between the spawning couple, which results in a larger amplitude sound wave than seen under regular courting, reveals time of gamete release to sneaker males. Thus, vibrational communication may enable synchrony between the guarding male and the female, and this might be traded against the cost of higher detectability from surrounding sneaker males, eavesdropping in close proximity.
Project description:Interactions among eggs and sperm are often assumed to generate intraspecific variation in reproductive fitness, but the specific gamete-level mechanisms underlying competitive fertilization success remain elusive in most species. Sperm chemotaxis-the attraction of sperm by egg-derived chemicals-is a ubiquitous form of gamete signaling, occurring throughout the animal and plant kingdoms. The chemical cues released by eggs are known to act at the interspecific level (e.g., facilitating species recognition), but recent studies have suggested that they could have roles at the intraspecific level by moderating sperm competition. Here, we exploit the experimental tractability of a broadcast spawning marine invertebrate to test this putative mechanism of gamete-level sexual selection. We use a fluorescently labeled mitochondrial dye in mussels to track the real-time success of sperm as they compete to fertilize eggs, and provide the first direct evidence in any species that competitive fertilization success is moderated by differential sperm chemotaxis. Furthermore, our data are consistent with the idea that egg chemoattractants selectively attract ejaculates from genetically compatible males, based on relationships inferred from both nuclear and mitochondrial genetic markers. These findings for a species that exhibits the ancestral reproductive strategy of broadcast spawning have important implications for the numerous species that also rely on egg chemoattractants to attract sperm, including humans, and have potentially important implications for our understanding of the evolutionary cascade of sexual selection.
Project description:Variation in local environmental conditions can have pronounced effects on the population structure and dynamics of marine organisms. Previous studies on crown-of-thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci, have primarily focused on effects of water quality and nutrient availability on larval growth and survival, while the role of maternal nutrition on reproduction and larval development has been overlooked. To examine the effects of maternal nutrition on oocyte size and early larval development in A. planci, we pre-conditioned females for 60 days on alternative diets of preferred coral prey (Acropora abrotanoides) versus non-preferred coral prey (Porites rus) and compared resulting gametes and progeny to those produced by females that were starved over the same period. Females fed ad libitum with Acropora increased in weight, produced heavier gonads and produced larger oocytes compared to Porites-fed and starved females. Fed starfish (regardless of whether it was Acropora or Porites) produced bigger larvae with larger stomachs and had a higher frequency of normal larvae that reached the late bipinnaria / early brachiolaria stage compared to starved starfish. Females on Acropora diet also produced a higher proportion of larvae that progressed to more advanced stages faster compared to Porites-fed starfish, which progressed faster than starved starfish. These results suggest that maternal provisioning can have important consequences for the quality and quantity of progeny. Because food quality (coral community structure) and quantity (coral abundance) varies widely among reef locations and habitats, local variation in maternal nutrition of A. planci is likely to moderate reproductive success and may explain temporal and spatial fluctuations in abundance of this species.
Project description:Ocean acidification (OA) poses a major threat to marine organisms, particularly during reproduction when externally shed gametes are vulnerable to changes in seawater pH. Accordingly, several studies on OA have focused on how changes in seawater pH influence sperm behavior and/or rates of in vitro fertilization. By contrast, few studies have examined how pH influences prefertilization gamete interactions, which are crucial during natural spawning events in most externally fertilizing taxa. One mechanism of gamete interaction that forms an important component of fertilization in most taxa is communication between sperm and egg-derived chemicals. These chemical signals, along with the physiological responses in sperm they elicit, are likely to be highly sensitive to changes in seawater chemistry. In this study, we experimentally tested this possibility using the blue mussel, Mytilus galloprovincialis, a species in which females have been shown to use egg-derived chemicals to promote the success of sperm from genetically compatible males. We conducted trials in which sperm were allowed to swim in gradients of egg-derived chemicals under different seawater CO2 (and therefore pH) treatments. We found that sperm had elevated fertilization rates after swimming in the presence of egg-derived chemicals in low pH (pH 7.6) compared with ambient (pH 8.0) seawater. This observed effect could have important implications for the reproductive fitness of external fertilizers, where gamete compatibility plays a critical role in modulating reproduction in many species. For example, elevated sperm fertilization rates might disrupt the eggs' capacity to avoid fertilizations by genetically incompatible sperm. Our findings highlight the need to understand how OA affects the multiple stages of sperm-egg interactions and to develop approaches that disentangle the implications of OA for female, male, and population fitness.
Project description:To maximize reproductive success, males have to adaptively tailor their sperm expenditure in relation to the quality of potential mates because they require time to replenish their sperm supply for subsequent mating opportunities. Therefore, in mating contexts where males must choose among females in a short period of time, as is the case with semelparous species (which die after one intensely competitive short duration breeding season), selection on sperm allocation can be expected to be a powerful selective agent that shapes the male reproductive success. We quantitatively investigated sperm allocation patterns in chum salmon in relation to perceived female quality by developing a novel method for determining the amount of sperm allocated per ejaculate during spawning bouts. We examined the relationship between sperm expenditure and the body size of paired females (a proxy of egg number and egg quality) in the absence of male-male competition in an experimental channel. The estimated amount of sperm released per spawning event was positively correlated with the size of paired females. However, the number of spawning events a female participated in, which reduces the number of eggs she spawns in each subsequent bout, did not affect this relationship. These results provide support for predictions arising from the sperm allocation hypothesis, male salmon do economize their sperm expenditure in accordance with paired female body size as predicted for their first spawning event, but males overestimate or are unable to assess the quality of females beyond size and provide more sperm than they should in theory when paired with a female that spawned previously. Overall, the observed sperm allocation pattern in chum salmon appears to be adapted to maximize reproductive success assuming female size is an honest indicator of quality, although temporal changes in a female's quality during a reproductive season should be considered when examining sperm allocation strategies.
Project description:The corallivorous Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (CoTS, Acanthaster spp.) has been linked with the widespread loss of scleractinian coral cover on Indo-Pacific reefs during periodic population outbreaks. Here, we re-examine CoTS consumption by coral reef fish species by using new DNA technologies to detect Pacific Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster cf. solaris) in fish faecal and gut content samples. CoTS DNA was detected in samples from 18 different coral reef fish species collected on reefs at various stages of CoTS outbreaks in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, nine of which had not been previously reported to feed on CoTS. A comprehensive set of negative and positive control samples confirmed that our collection, processing and analysis procedures were robust, although food web transfer of CoTS DNA cannot be ruled out for some fish species. Our results, combined with the (i) presence of CoTS spines in some samples, (ii) reported predation on CoTS gametes, larvae and settled individuals, and (iii) known diet information for fish species examined, strongly indicate that direct fish predation on CoTS may well be more common than is currently appreciated. We provide recommendations for specific management approaches to enhance predation on CoTS by coral reef fishes, and to support the mitigation of CoTS outbreaks and reverse declines in hard coral cover.
Project description:Rising and more variable global temperatures pose a challenge for biodiversity, with reproduction and fertility being especially sensitive to heat. Here, we assessed the potential for thermal adaptation in sperm and egg function using Tribolium flour beetles, a warm-temperate-tropical insect model. Following temperature increases through adult development, we found opposing gamete responses, with males producing shorter sperm and females laying larger eggs. Importantly, this gamete phenotypic plasticity was adaptive: thermal translocation experiments showed that both sperm and eggs produced in warmer conditions had superior reproductive performance in warmer environments, and vice versa for cooler production conditions and reproductive environments. In warmer environments, gamete plasticity enabled males to double their reproductive success, and females could increase offspring production by one-third. Our results reveal exciting potential for sensitive but vital traits within reproduction to handle increasing and more variable thermal regimes in the natural environment.
Project description:The movement capacity of the crown-of-thorns starfishes (Acanthaster spp.) is a primary determinant of both their distribution and impact on coral assemblages. We quantified individual movement rates for the Pacific crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster solaris) ranging in size from 75-480 mm total diameter, across three different substrates (sand, flat consolidated pavement, and coral rubble) on the northern Great Barrier Reef. The mean (±SE) rate of movement for smaller (<150 mm total diameter) A. solaris was 23.99 ± 1.02 cm/ min and 33.41 ± 1.49 cm/ min for individuals >350 mm total diameter. Mean (±SE) rates of movement varied with substrate type, being much higher on sand (36.53 ± 1.31 cm/ min) compared to consolidated pavement (28.04 ± 1.15 cm/ min) and slowest across coral rubble (17.25 ± 0.63 cm/ min). If average rates of movement measured here can be sustained, in combination with strong directionality, displacement distances of adult A. solaris could range from 250-520 m/ day, depending on the prevailing substrate. Sustained movement of A. solaris is, however, likely to be highly constrained by habitat heterogeneity, energetic constraints, resource availability, and diurnal patterns of activity, thereby limiting their capacity to move between reefs or habitats.