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The Influence of Social Environment on Sex Determination in Harlequin Shrimp (Hymenocera Picta: Decapoda, Gnathophyllidae)

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Abstract Harlequin shrimp, Hymenocera picta, are monogamous and pair-bonding, and are usually found in isolated singles and pairs in the field. The apparent rarity of this species in their habitat and high levels of aggression between consexuals suggests the possibility of some sort of plasticity in their primary sex determination. In this study, the influence of social environment upon primary sex determination in H. picta was examined experimentally in the laboratory. Naïve juveniles were placed in three novel social environments: paired juveniles, single juveniles, and adult/juvenile pairs. Spacing behavior and the onset of external differentiation were observed during long-term experiments for each social treatment. Gonadal development was also observed. Spacing behavior of paired shrimp reflected the sexual composition of social groups; high intrapair distance (IPD) for same-sex pairs and low IPD for opposite-sex pairs. Sex determination results were not so clear. Two of the three paired juvenile replicates displayed phenotype frequencies different from those expected from a random sample of gonochoristic organisms with a 1:1 sex ratio. However, the third replicate and the combined frequencies did not show any statistical difference from the hypothetical random sample. Furthermore, single juveniles and those paired with adults expressed sex in nearly 1:1 ratios, regardless of the sex of adult conspecifics. Histological examination of juvenile shrimp confirmed that sex was determined as early as four weeks after larval metamorphosis. Therefore, social environment had no clear effect upon sexual phenotype expressed. However, single females attained puberty at a significantly greater age and larger size than did females paired with males. Hence for H. picta, social environment had a measurable effect on the timing of female puberty. This is the first demonstration of this phenomenon in decapod Crustacea.

Affiliations: 1: Sesoko Station, Tropical Biosphere Research Center, University of the Ryukyus, 3422 Sesoko, Motobu-cho, Okinawa 905-0227, Japan (


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