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Phenotypic plasticity or a reproductive dead end? Primnoa pacifica (Cnidaria: Alcyonacea) in the southeastern Alaska region

November 20, 2019

Red tree corals (Primnoa pacifica) are abundant in the eastern Gulf of Alaska, from the glacial fjords of Southeast Alaska where they emerge to as shallow as 6 m, to the continental shelf edge and seamounts where they are more commonly found at depths greater than 150 – 500 m. This keystone species forms large thickets, creating habitat for many associated species, including economically valuable fishes and crabs, and so are important benthic suspension feeders in this region. Though the reproductive periodicity of this species was reported in 2014 from a shallow fjord (Tracy Arm), this study examined reproductive ecologies from 8 sites – two within Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, three on the continental shelf edge, one within Endicott Arm (Holkham Bay) and two time points from the Tracy Arm (Holkham Bay) study. Male reproductive traits were similar at all sites but there were distinct differences in oogenesis. Though per polyp fecundity mostly showed no significant difference between sites, there was a non-significant trend of increasing number of oocytes with depth. In addition, the average oocyte size from Tracy Arm (the shallowest site) was 105 μm, whereas from Shutter Ridge (one of the deepest sites) the average size was 309 μm. Moreover, the maximum oocyte size at Endicott Arm was 221 μm and at Tracy Arm was 802 μm (both shallow sites), whereas at Dixon Entrance (a deep site) it was 2120 μm, a difference not usually observed within a single species. We propose two theories to explain the observed differences, (a) this species shows great phenotypic plasticity in reproductive ecology, adjusting to different environmental variables based on energetic need and potentially demonstrating micro-evolution; or (b) the fjord sites are at a reproductive dead end, with the stress of shallow-water conditions effectively preventing gametogenesis reaching full potential and likely limiting successful reproductive events from occurring, at least on a regular basis.

Publication Year 2019
Title Phenotypic plasticity or a reproductive dead end? Primnoa pacifica (Cnidaria: Alcyonacea) in the southeastern Alaska region
DOI 10.3389/fmars.2019.00709
Authors Rhian G. Waller, Robert P. Stone, Lauren Rice, Julia Johnstone, Ashley M. Rossin, Elise Hartill, Keri Feehan, Cheryl Morrison
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Marine Science
Index ID 70215266
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Leetown Science Center