Morphological ontogeny of the gonad of three plectropomid species through sex differentiation and transition
The gonadal ontogeny through sex differentiation and transition of three protogynous coral trout species, Plectropomus leopardus, P. maculatus and P. laevis was described, based on anatomical and germinal differences along the length of the reproductive tract. Gonads of immature and mature females, sex changing individuals (transitionals) and males were examined. Specific anatomical features that were compared between sexual phases included the presence and structure of sperm sinuses, gonadal musculature and germinal cell types. All three coral trout species first differentiated as an immature female. The sexual pattern of P. leopardus and P. maculatus was concluded to be diandric protogynous hermaphroditism (males were derived from the juvenile phase as well as through sex change of mature females). Plectropomus laevis was found to be monandric as males were only derived through sex change in mature females. Structural changes did not occur concomitantly with the germinal changes associated with sex change in these Plectropomus species, which is atypical for protogynous species described to date. Precursory sperm sinuses in the dorso-medial region of the gonad were present, although non-functional, in a proportion of immature and mature females of all three species. These proportions, however, varied between species depending on the sexual pattern. The structural and germinal changes observed were hypothesized as anatomical adaptations that aid in minimizing time spent in the (non-reproductive) sexual transition phase and maximizing flexibility in male development in the diandric species.
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