Reproductive plasticity in mole crabs,Emerita brasiliensis, in sandy beaches with contrasting morphodynamics

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Abstract

Ovarian macroscopical analysis, histological validation and field sampling procedures were used to evaluate the variability in reproductive traits of the mole crab Emerita brasiliensis Schmitt, 1935 (Decapoda: Hippidae) in two exposed sandy beaches of Uruguay with contrasting morphodynamics. All developmental stages involved in the complex life cycle exhibited lower abundance, individual size and temporal occurrence in a harsh reflective beach, compared with a more benign dissipative environment. In addition, this population showed more compressed events of the reproductive cycle (e.g oogenesis, encounter of potential mate and female parental care) and recruitment period. However, the beginning of the vitellogenesis, ovary maturity, male sexual differentiation and ending of spermatogenesis occurred at smaller sizes under dissipative conditions. These results disagree with the recent findings of delayed sexual maturity in dissipative beaches. We postulate that, in dissipative conditions, high food availability might allow an overlapping of reproductive and moulting processes, and thus females may reach optimum size and sexual maturity with fewer moults than in reflective beaches. Hence, reproductive responses must be considered not only in relation to environmental harshness, but also in the context of life history traits and their phylogenetic and allometric constraints.

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