Sperm production in an extremophile fish, the cave molly (Poecilia mexicana, Poeciliidae, Teleostei)
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A prominent trade-off in life history theory and evolution balances the costs of reproduction with those of basic somatic needs. Hence, reproductive efforts may be reduced in environments where additional energy is required for somatic maintenance. Here, we investigated male sperm stores in Atlantic mollies (Poecilia mexicana) from a sulfidic cave and several sulfidic and non-sulfidic surface habitats. We found significant differences among populations in the number of sperm stripped per male, which was also correlated with differences in gonad weights. The largest sperm stores were detected in males from non-sulfidic surface creeks, while males from a partially sulfidic surface system had lower sperm counts, and males from completely sulfidic systems, surface as well as subterranean, had even fewer available sperm. We conclude that the extreme environmental conditions in sulfidic habitats appear to constrain male sperm production, since hydrogen sulfide as a naturally occurring toxin requires energy-demanding adaptations. Furthermore, we examined sperm counts of lab-reared cave and surface mollies in response to energy limitation. Males from stock populations were placed under high and low food treatments for a 2-week period and then stripped of sperm. Sperm counts of surface mollies tended to be reduced by low food availability, whereas sperm counts of cave mollies did not significantly vary between food treatments, which likely points towards a higher starvation resistance in cave mollies.
KeywordsCave fish Energy limitation Hydrogen sulfide Spermatogenesis Testes weight
N. Franssen and L. Fromhage kindly provided valuable comments on the manuscript. We thank the Mexican Government for issuing research permits (Permiso de pesca de fomento numbers: 291002-613-1577, DGOPA/5864/260704/-2408, and DGOPA/16988/191205/-8101). Financial support came from the University of Oklahoma, the DFG (SCHL 344/15-1; PL 470/1-1), the German Ichthyological Association (M.T. and M.P.), the American Livebearer Association, the Basler Foundation for Biological Research, the Janggen-Poehn-Foundation, the Roche Research Foundation, and the Wolfermann-Nägeli-Foundation (M.T.).
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