Environmental manipulation is a common method of extending the spawning season of aquaculture species including the polychaete worm Arenicola marina. Temperature synchronises autumn spawning populations and so its manipulation was used to advance and delay spawning. Females were exposed to a minimum period of 3 weeks at 5 degrees C in conjunction with the injection of prostomial homogenate to induce spawning up to 4 weeks prior to the natural spawning date. We also maintained individuals at 15-17 degrees C starting 4 weeks prior to, and then continuing after the natural spawning date, delaying spawning for up to 4 months. Both sexes can be manipulated, but males suffered higher mortalities and a greater rate of spontaneous spawning within the tanks. In 'advanced' females, mean oocyte diameters (measured in September, one month prior to spawning) were significantly larger and more homogenous compared to ambient individuals, whilst 'delayed' females produced a second cohort of oocytes approximately 8 weeks into the treatment. Delaying and advancing spawning induced significant changes in the ultrastructural morphology of prophase and metaphase oocytes, and delayed prophase oocytes showed a significant increase in the number with cracks on the surface of the vitelline membrane. Although, SDS-PAGE and Western blots confirmed that Maturation Promoting Factor (MPF) activity was not different from ambient controls, there were significant changes in MPF activity levels (measured by histone kinase activity) in manipulated oocytes. A. marina has the plasticity for spawning to be delayed and advanced by a number of months; this is essential for the continued development of aquaculture of this species. However, the maturational ability of the oocytes is compromised and this may have significant implications for production and quality of the offspring from manipulated individuals. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.