Research Article

Marine Biology

, 151:907

First online:

How do dietary diatoms cause the sex reversal of the shrimp Hippolyte inermis Leach (Crustacea, Decapoda)

  • Valerio ZupoAffiliated withStazione Zoologica “A. Dohrn”. Benthic Ecology Laboratory Email author 
  • , Patrizia MessinaAffiliated withStazione Zoologica “A. Dohrn”. Benthic Ecology Laboratory

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Hippolyte inermis Leach 1915 is a protandric shrimp largely distributed in Posidonia oceanica meadows and other Mediterranean seagrasses. Previous studies demonstrated several physiological peculiarities, such as absence of female gonadic buds in adult males (the new female gonad is produced starting from few undifferentiated cells), the consequent absence of an ovotestis, 2 yearly periods of reproduction with different population structures (a spring outburst producing both males and primary females, and a fall reproduction producing mainly males), and a process of sex reversal influenced by the diatom food ingested. We performed several laboratory analyses to compare the effects of various species of benthic diatoms, in order to test the effect of different diatoms and provide information on the mechanism of action of the ingested compounds. In addition, we performed molecular tests (TUNEL) and TEM observations, to check the hypothesis that the effect of benthic diatoms may be mediated by a process of apoptosis acting on the male gonad. The results obtained allowed for a ranking of a series of benthic diatoms according to their effects on sex reversal, and a confirmation of the striking effect of Cocconeis sp. diatoms, which are able to trigger the appearance of primary females. We also demonstrated the presence of apoptosis both in the male gonad and in the androgenic glands of postlarvae. The effect is species specific, strictly localized to the male gonad and androgenic gland, and limited to a very short period of time, from the 5th to the 12th day of postlarval development.