, Volume 146, Issue 4, pp 683-693
Date: 14 Oct 2004

Long-term changes in reproductive patterns of the holothurian Oneirophanta mutabilis from the Porcupine Abyssal Plain

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Abstract

Time-series studies (1989–2002) in the NE Atlantic have shown large-scale changes in the composition and structure of the benthic community on the Porcupine Abyssal Plain. Radical changes in the abundance of some species in 1996 led to a significant shift in the way in which organic matter was reprocessed at the seabed. This article examines the reproductive processes of the holothurian Oneirophanta mutabilis collected during the time series. The reproductive biology of O. mutabilis is reviewed. No males were evident in any of the samples. The sex ratio (females: ‘no gender’) was biased significantly towards no-gender individuals. The maximum egg size was 650 μm and there was no evidence of synchrony in reproduction. Significant changes in the oocyte-size distribution and the fecundity of O. mutabilis were noted through time, coinciding with the time of greatest faunal change in the benthic community. There was an increase in the proportion of previtellogenic oocytes and a decrease in the proportion of mature vitellogenic oocytes in 1997 and 1998, in parallel with a significant decrease in fecundity of the post-1996 samples. Samples from 2002 showed a reversal in the reproductive trends, with an increase in the proportion of mature vitellogenic oocytes and fecundity. The results are discussed in relation to large changes in abundance of the epibenthos on the Porcupine Abyssal Plain. It is suggested that the superabundance of certain megafaunal species on the abyssal seafloor affected the availability of trophic resources for O. mutabilis, leading to the changes in its reproductive effort.

Communicated by J.P. Thorpe, Port Erin