Early gonadal development and primary males in the protogynous epinepheline, Cephalopholis boenak
Early gonadal development of the protogynous epinepheline, Cephalopholis boenak, was examined histologically in 289 specimens with standard length (LS) of 42–130 mm, collected from May 2000 to April 2002 in Hong Kong waters, to determine male developmental pathways and establish its sexual pattern. All juvenile gonads developed an ovarian lumen with primary‐growth stage oocytes and scattered spermatogenic tissue prior to sexual differentiation and first sexual maturation. From this bisexual phase containing both female and male tissues, some gonads differentiated as ovaries with further oocyte growth to cortical‐alveolus and vitellogenic stages, the rest differentiated as testes with the proliferation of spermatogenic tissue and the formation of a sperm sinus. All testes retained the lumen and primary‐growth stage oocytes, and sperm sinuses ran within the gonad wall. Unlike most protogynous species, among functional males it was impossible to distinguish those resulting from juveniles through sexual differentiation (i.e. primary male) from those resulting from functional females through sex change (i.e. secondary male) based solely on testicular morphology. A proportion‐spermatogenic‐tissue index (IST) was, therefore, developed and determined to be a reliable quantitative indicator for distinguishing differentiating, primary males before a sperm sinus was evident, from differentiating females during sexual differentiation. Since sexually transitional specimens with the concominant appearance of degenerating vitellogenic, or later, stage oocytes and spermatogenic tissue in the gonads were previously noted from Hong Kong, diandric, protogynous hermaphroditism is confirmed in C. boenak. For species, such as this and other epinephelines, in which all males have the same testicular morphology, a complete analysis of a wide range of body sizes from juveniles to adults is necessary for understanding male developmental pathways, and determining sexual pattern.