Effect of parental age and associated size on fecundity, growth and survival in the yellow seahorse Hippocampus kuda

Publication Type: Journal Article

Year of Publication: 2006

Authors: Dzyuba, B, Van Look KJW, Cliffe A, Koldewey HJ, Holt WV

Journal: Journal of Experimental Biology

Volume: 209

Issue: 16

Pagination: 3055 - 3061

Date Published: 08/2006

ISSN: 1477-9145

Keywords: attachment site, Barker hypothesis, embryo, foetal origins hypothesis, Hippocampus kuda, post-natal growth, pouch, yellow seahorse


Seahorses, together with the pipefishes (Family Syngnathidae), are the only vertebrates in which embryonic development takes place within a specialised body compartment, the brood pouch, of the male instead of the female. Embryos develop in close association with the brood pouch epithelium in a manner that bears some resemblance to embryo-placental relationships in mammals. We have explored the hypothesis that parental body size and age should affect offspring postnatal growth and survival if brood pouch quality impacts upon prenatal embryonic nutrition or respiration. Using an aquarium population of the yellow seahorse, Hippocampus kuda, we show here that large parents produce offspring whose initial postnatal growth rates (weeks one to three) were significantly higher than those of the offspring of younger and smaller parents. Whereas 90% of offspring from the larger parents survived for the duration of the study (7 weeks), less that 50% of offspring from smaller parents survived for the same period. For the offspring of large parents, growth rates from individual males were negatively correlated with the number of offspring in the cohort (r=-0.82; P<0.05); this was not the case for offspring from small parents (r=0.048; P>0.9). Observations of embryos within the pouch suggested that when relatively few embryos are present they may attach to functionally advantageous sites and thus gain physiological support during gestation. These results suggest that male body size, and pouch size and function, may influence the future fitness and survival of their offspring.

DOI: 10.1242/jeb.02336

Short Title: Journal of Experimental Biology