Serum steroid concentrations and development of reproductive organs during puberty in male bonnethead sharks, Sphyrna tiburo
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Puberty is a critical, hormone-mediated event during which an animal acquires the ability to breed and propagate. Despite the importance of this stage in animal reproduction, little is known regarding the physiological factors that regulate and/or accompany puberty in several vertebrate groups including elasmobranchs. To address the need for such information, the present study investigated morphological and hormonal changes that occur during puberty in male bonnethead sharks (Sphyrna tiburo). Serial changes in development of claspers, paired copulatory organs in male elasmobranchs, and serum steroid concentrations during puberty were evaluated in captive-held male S. tiburo. Captive-animal studies were supplemented by observations on gonadal development, gonaduct morphology, and serum steroid concentrations in feral, peripubertal male S. tiburo. Changes in size and histological architecture of testes and gonaducts of peripubertal sharks mirrored the seasonal progression of events that occur in these structures in mature males. Claspers grew in length continuously during puberty, but sharks did not reach functional maturity until a short period before mating activity commences in the mature population. Clasper growth appeared to be strictly regulated in S. tiburo, perhaps to ensure growth of these organs to sizes deemed critical for reproductive success. Serum concentrations of testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, progesterone, and 17β-estradiol increased in both captive and feral sharks during pubertal development, and may be associated with development of the gonads and gonaducts. Differences in hormone profiles of captive and feral sharks were observed at certain periods during puberty, but their origin remains unclear.
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