CIE Spotlight: Reproductive cycle of Urolophus cruciatus in south-eastern Australia: Does the species exhibit obligate or facultative diapause?

Laurie L.

Authors: Trinnie, Fabian I.; Walker, Terence I.; Jones, Paul L.; Laurenson, Laurie J.

Source: MARINE BIOLOGY, 163 (11), NOV 2016

Brief summary of the paper: Observations of synchronous rapid growth of embryos and ovarian follicles in pregnant females during the half-year December–May leading to parturition, ovulation, mating, and fertilization suggest Urolophus cruciatus has the capacity for an annual reproductive cycle.

Conversely, the higher proportion of the pregnant females in the population carrying eggs than carrying embryos in utero during December–May and all pregnant females in the population only carrying eggs in utero during June–November indicate a longer reproductive cycle.

Analysis based on the usual assumptions implies that the species most likely exhibits a biennial cycle with ~18-month period of diapause following ovulation prior to ~6-month period of rapid embryogenesis. However, it is feasible that the period of the cycle is triennial with ~30-month period of diapause or alternatively diapause varies among individuals and varies from year to year.

Rather than exhibiting a fixed-term reproductive cycle where obligatory diapause leads to parturition timed every year to provide favourable conditions for neonates, as suggested for several other chondrichthyan species, U. cruciatus may exhibit facultative diapause where the period of diapause and hence the reproductive cycle varies depending on the prevailing environmental conditions or density-dependent factors as described for many terrestrial species.

U. cruciatus is highly matrotrophic (>4000 % wet mass gain from ovum to full-term embryo), litter size (1–4) increases with maternal length, sex ratio among embryos is 1:1, and male breeding condition varies seasonally with peak sperm production coinciding with female ovulation.