Born among the ice: First morphological observations on two developmental stages of the Antarctic silverfish Pleuragramma antarcticum, a key species of the Southern Ocean

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Abstract

The Antarctic silverfish Pleuragramma antarcticum is a keystone species in the Southern Ocean ecosystem, providing one of the major links between lower and higher trophic levels. Despite the importance of this species, surprisingly little is known of its early development. The first spawning area for the silverfish has been recently identified in the near-shore of Terra Nova Bay (Ross Sea). Evidence indicates that spawning and embryo development occurs in the cryopelagic environment, below the seasonal pack-ice. In order to contribute to the knowledge of the life cycle of this very important Antarctic species, we carried out the first histological characterization on pre-hatching embryos and newly hatched larvae. Embryonated eggs and larvae of P. antarcticum were collected between late October and November 2005 at TNB through holes drilled into the sea ice. Embryonic stage just before hatching and the first post-hatching stage were the most abundant within our samples and thus were analysed using both macroscopic and histological approaches. Early life stages of the Antarctic silverfish revealed interesting features: the sensory system, foraging apparatus and heart appeared well developed, whereas the liver and gills were underdeveloped. Morphological details of the organogenesis were performed, providing the first substantial information on the development of P. antarcticum and representing a further steps towards the knowledge of the life cycle of this important Antarctic key species.

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