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Long lasting stickleback sperm; is ovarian fluid a key to success in fresh water?

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Although the sperm of externally fertilizing fishes usually has a brief life span of up to a few minutes, this study showed that the sperm of the three-spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus moved for several hours in brackish water and up to at least 10 h in the presence of ovarian fluid. Three-spined sticklebacks were able to spawn in waters ranging from full-strength sea water to fresh water, an ability unusual among fishes. The influence of salinity on sperm motility was examined, using three-spined sticklebacks from sea (salinity 30), brackish (5ยท5) and freshwater (0) populations. All three populations were found to have sperm with long motility periods in brackish water, lasting 165–270 min. Seawater three-spined sticklebacks had sperm motile for up to 65 min in sea water, whereas sperm from fresh- and brackish-water fish were quiescent in this medium. In fresh water, sperm from all three populations showed a very brief motility period, lasting <60 s. The presence of ovarian fluid, however, prolonged the motility period of sperm from both fresh- and brackish-water three-spined sticklebacks, for up to 7 and 10 h in fresh and brackish water, respectively, with some sperm found to be motile for up to 24 h. The results indicated that ovarian fluid created a favourable environment for the sperm and might have facilitated the three-spined sticklebacks' successful penetration of fresh water.

Keywords: ovary; sperm motility; teleost; testes

Document Type: Regular Paper


Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden and 2: Department of Animal and Plant Science, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, U.K.

Publication date: 2003-07-01

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