Synchronous aggregated pseudo-copulation of the sea star Archaster angulatus Müller & Troschel, 1842 (Echinodermata: Asteroidea) and its reproductive cycle in south-western Australia
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- Keesing, J.K., Graham, F., Irvine, T.R. et al. Mar Biol (2011) 158: 1163. doi:10.1007/s00227-011-1638-2
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Mass individual pairing or pseudo-copulation of the sea star Archaster angulatus was observed in November and December 2009, suggesting a late-spring/summer spawning period for this species on the west coast of Australia. Detailed measurements were made on the second of these occasions. Density of sea stars was 1.11 per m2 and 68.5% were in mating pairs. Copulating pairs were mostly male on female, occasionally male on male. There was no difference in size between males and females in mating pairs. No evidence was found to indicate mating and spawning is coincident with lunar or tidal cycles. Females outnumbered males by more than 20%, but the difference in sex ratio was not statistically significant. Analysis of the reproductive cycle revealed that gonad indices reached their peak in October and declined from then until January. Histological sections of gonads confirmed that sea stars are in peak reproductive condition in October and November and are fully spent by January. Males have a much lower (ca. 1/3rd) gonad index than females when each are in peak reproductive condition, the second lowest recorded for any sea star. Pyloric caecae indices showed little annual variation and monthly averages of just 3–4% are among the lowest ever recorded for an asteroid. It is suggested that these characteristics are associated with the copulatory behaviour of the deposit feeding A. angulatus, enabling the species to maintain a high level of fertilisation success while also minimising the allocation of energy to gonad development in habitats with low or variable food availability. However, it is still difficult to explain why a species which ensures a high level of fertilisation by pseudo-copulation also does this en masse and synchronously. One hypothesis is that competition for males and the benefits of having eggs fertilised by multiple males favours both synchrony and aggregation.