Original Paper

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 11, pp 1749-1765

First online:

Synchronized breeding events in sympatric marine invertebrates: role of behavior and fine temporal windows in maintaining reproductive isolation

  • Annie MercierAffiliated withOcean Sciences Centre (OSC), Memorial University Email author 
  • , Jean-François HamelAffiliated withSociety for the Exploration and Valuing of the Environment (SEVE)

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


While breeding synchrony among conspecifics is increasingly well understood with regards to the reproductive success of vertebrate and invertebrate taxa, the occurrence of simultaneous multispecies breeding events remains intriguing. The fairly recent discovery of mass annual spawnings in reef corals has provided a first glimpse at putative strategies of reproductive isolation during such events. However, the mechanisms and advantages of same-day heterospecific breeding are still poorly understood and have not yet been investigated in non-coral taxa with different life history strategies. In an effort to bridge this gap, we investigated spawning periodicity and synchrony among 26 sympatric species of free-spawning, capsule-laying, and brood-protecting macroinvertebrates belonging to six different phyla. Twenty-four of these species released gametes or larvae between early March and late April. We analyzed the events over fine temporal scales to test the hypothesis that breeding activities were not random in time or relative to each other. We found that the two main reproductive pulses followed a lunar periodicity and that consistent species- and gender-specific modulations in the timing of spawning occurred during same-day episodes involving up to six free-spawning species. Mass spawning accounts from the literature were reviewed and compared. This work suggests that many species participate in synchronous heterospecific spawning events either because they respond to the same environmental cues or rely on cross-cueing and that reproductive isolation is favored by species-specific circadian patterns, spawning behaviors and cross-gender signaling.


Breeding synchrony Spawning behavior Marine invertebrate Species interaction Lunar periodicity Reproduction