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Ecology. 2006 May;87(5):1104-9.

Mothers matter: crowding leads to stressed mothers and smaller offspring in marine fish.

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School of Marine Biology and Aquaculture, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia.


Most marine populations are sustained by the entry of juveniles that have survived the larval phase, during which time most die. The number of survivors depends strongly on the quality of the eggs produced by spawning females, but it is not known how the social conditions under which breeding occurs influence the quality of larvae produced. Here I show that the density of females interacting with breeding mothers directly influences the size of larvae produced, through a stress-related mechanism. On the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, breeding pairs of a damselfish, Pomacentrus amboinensis, were isolated on habitat patches, and additional females that could not access the spawning site were added at four densities (0, 1, 3, or 6 females). Additional females increased aggressive interactions by mothers and increased the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in their ovaries, leading to reduced larval size. Neither egg output nor yolk size of the larvae was influenced by female density. Pairs breeding in isolation produced the largest larvae; current theory suggests that these larvae should contribute most to subsequent population replenishment events. This social mechanism may influence which females effectively contribute to the next generation and may promote resilience in patchy or isolated populations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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