Does seasonal reproduction occur at the optimal time for fertilization in the polychaetes Arenicola marina L. and Nereis virens Sars?

C. Lewis, P. Olive, M. Bentley, Gordon Watson

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Many marine invertebrates exhibit highly seasonal and synchronised reproduction, with offspring production often being confined to just two or three days each year. Several models have been proposed to explain the fitness benefits of this reproductive pattern, many of which assume enhanced offspring survival due to temperature constraints placed on fertilization and development at other times of the year. In this investigation the temperature limits and optimum for fertilization were determined for two polychaete species, Arenicola marina and Nereis virens. These two polychaete species are exposed to the same environmental conditions throughout the year, yet breed at very different times. Other seasonal impacts on fertilization, i.e., reduced salinity due to rainfall and the effect of sub-zero temperatures on sperm of A. marina, were also investigated. In both A. marina and N. virens fertilization success was significantly influenced by temperature, with the maximum success recorded at 15–18°C. The ambient seawater temperature at the time of natural spawning for both worms is around 10°C, which means that both species are spawning right at the lower limit for maximum fertilization. Salinity and exposure of A. marina sperm to sub-zero temperatures were also found to influence fertilization success, but only at levels that would not be experienced by these polychaetes under natural conditions at the time of spawning. These results suggest there must be additional selective pressures acting on the fitness of these two polychaetes causing A. marina to breed later than, and N. virens to breed earlier than, the optimum time for fertilization. A. marina apparently waits as late as possible to maximise adult fecundity and survival. N. virens breeds as soon as it can achieve high fertilization to maximise larval and juvenile competitiveness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-71
Number of pages11
JournalInvertebrate Reproduction and Development
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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