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Sexual dimorphism in an under-ice spawning fish: the burbot (Lota lota)

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Sexual dimorphic characteristics arise in response to differing selective pressures on the sexes and can be used to attract mates or signal reproductive readiness. How sexual dimorphism is expressed where visual cues may be of limited use is an underexplored aspect of reproductive ecology. The burbot (Lota lota (L., 1758)) is a common boreal fish that is not overtly sexually dimorphic. It spawns mid-winter in a light-limited under-ice environment. We examined a variety of morphological and reproductive characteristics in burbot from a northern lake over one full year to assess both seasonal and sex-based variation. Spawning occurred under ice in early February. Seasonal variation was more pronounced in females for many of the traits examined. Growth, fin lengths, swim bladder mass, and liver lipid concentration did not differ between the sexes. Male burbot had significantly higher body condition, larger gas glands, and smaller livers. Males also had significantly larger gonads than females, unusual for boreal fishes. The high gonadal investment of male burbot suggests that sperm competition may be intense in this species. This study demonstrates that sexual dimorphism can be subtle and is present in a seemingly monomorphic species—the burbot.

Keywords: Gadidae; Lota lota; burbot; concurrence spermatique; dimorphisme sexuel; gadidés; gonadal production; lipid; lipide; lotte; production gonadique; sexual dimorphism; sperm competition; swim bladder; vessie natatoire

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, #301, 5205-50th Avenue, Yellowknife, NT X1A 1E2, Canada. 2: Laurentian University, Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit, Vale Living with Lakes Centre, 840 Ramsey Lake Road, Sudbury, ON P3E 2C6, Canada.

Publication date: January 1, 2013

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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