Infertility in male aquatic invertebrates: a review

C. Lewis, Alex Ford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As a result of endocrine disruptor studies, there are numerous examples of male related reproductive abnormalities observed in vertebrates. Contrastingly, within the invertebrates there have been considerably less examples both from laboratory and field investigations. This has in part been due to a focus of female related endpoints, inadequate biomarkers and the low number of studies. Whether contaminant induced male infertility is an issue within aquatic invertebrates and their wider communities therefore remains largely unknown and represents a key knowledge gap in our understanding of pollutant impacts in aquatic wildlife. This paper reviews the current knowledge regarding pollutants impacting male infertility across several aquatic invertebrate phyla; which biomarkers are currently being used and where the science needs to be expanded. The limited studies conducted so far have revealed reductions in sperm numbers, examples of poor fertilisation success, DNA damage to spermatozoa and inhibition of sperm motility that can be induced by a range of environmental contaminants. This limited data is mainly comprised from laboratory studies with only a few studies of sperm toxicity in natural populations. Clearly, there is a need for further studies in this area, to include both laboratory and field studies from clean and reference sites, with a focus on broadcast spawners and those with direct fertilisation. Biomarkers developed for measuring sperm quantity and quality in vertebrates are easily transferable to invertebrates but require optimisation for particular species. We discuss how sperm tracking and techniques for measuring DNA strand breaks and sperm viability have been successfully transferred from human infertility clinics to aquatic invertebrate ecotoxicology. Linking sperm toxicity and male infertility effects to higher level impacts on the reproductive biology and dynamics of populations requires a much greater understanding of fertilisation dynamics and sperm competition/limitation for invertebrate species and represents the next challenge in our understanding of male toxicity effects in natural populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-89
Number of pages11
JournalAquatic Toxicology
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2012


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