Transient ontogenetic expression of hermaphroditic gonad morphology within the Gobiosoma group of the Neotropical seven-spined gobies (Teleostei: Gobiidae)
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- Cole, K.S. Mar Biol (2008) 154: 943. doi:10.1007/s00227-008-0986-z
The Neotropical seven-spined gobies (tribe Gobiosomatini), including the Gobiosoma and Microgobius groups, constitute a speciose, monophyletic gobiid taxon. In particular, member species of the Gobiosoma group exhibit a combination of behavioral diversification and microhabitat specialization that may have played a major role in their collective rapid evolution and high rate of speciation. Functional hermaphroditism, which is common among gobiids, can promote exploitation of patchily distributed micro-niches by countering potential reductions in reproductive opportunities. However, the possible role of functional hermaphroditism in the exploitation of microhabitats and rapid speciation in the Gobiosoma group is unknown. One member species, Tigrigobius multifasciatus, is a functional hermaphrodite. Two other Gobiosoma group species are functionally gonochoric (i.e., constant-sexed), but exhibit transient hermaphroditic ovarian structure among immatures. In this study, ovarian morphology among immature and adult females of several Gobiosoma group species was examined to see if hermaphroditic gonadal features are present. Although no evidence of functional hermaphroditism in the form of precursive accessory gonadal structures (pAGS) associated with the adult ovary was found among newly examined species, all species exhibited the transient expression of hermaphroditic gonadal features associated with the immature ovary. In contrast, among six species of non-Gobiosomatini genera having no record of hermaphroditism, none exhibited similar transient hermaphroditic features associated with the immature ovary. These findings suggest that hermaphroditism may have been an ancestral trait which has been secondarily lost within some Gobiosoma group species. This study also shows that ontogenetic and morphogenic processes within the gobiid reproductive system may provide new insights into the evolution of life history traits and significantly further our understanding of the extraordinary evolutionary success of this group.