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The reproductive biology of a new species of sea cucumber, Holothuria (Mertensiothuria) arenacava in a Kenyan marine protected area: the possible role of light and temperature on gametogenesis and spawning


The reproductive biology of a new species of sea cucumber, Holothuria (Mertensiothuria) arenacava in a Kenyan marine protected area: the possible role of light and temperature on gametogenesis and spawning



ine Biology 149(3): 5-93



DOI: 10.1007/s00227-005-0224-x

The sea cucumber Holothuria arenacava was discovered in the Mombasa marine reserve in 1997 and described by Samyn et al. (2001). The reproductive biology of this holothurian was investigated in order to (1) characterize the reproductive pattern, (2) examine the relationship among environmental parameters including temperature, light and lunar period, and (3) examine the relationship between the reproductive pattern and feeding of this new species. The gonad index method and microscopic examination of gonads was used to analyze samples collected for a period of 13 months. H. arenacava displayed an annual reproductive cycle with gametogenesis commencing in July during the south-east monsoons, when temperature and light intensity are lowest along the Kenyan coast. Gonad growth peaked in February-March at the end of the north-east monsoons when temperatures and light reach their annual maxima along the Kenyan coast. The higher correlation between light intensity and gonad growth (r=93) than temperature (r=0.71), coupled with the fact that temperatures continued to drop for a month after gametogenesis had already commenced, suggests that light intensity and not temperature is the cue for the onset of gametogenesis in this species. Spawning was synchronized between females and males and occurred during a short period between March and May (inter-monsoonal period) when both temperature and light intensity decrease along the Kenyan coast. Male and female gonad indices showed significant variation with lunar day and no lunar periodicity was observed in this sea cucumber. The sex ratio of the population of H. arenacava was skewed towards significantly more females than males, and females were significantly larger and had larger gonads and gonad indices than males. These life history strategies including spawning during a short discrete period, more and larger females that have larger gonads (i.e., typically more fecund), and spawning just prior to the peak in phytoplankton concentrations, a time that is probably more favorable for larval development, may serve to increase the reproductive success of this sea cucumber.

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