Aspects of the reproductive biology and endocrinology of the substrate-spawning cichlid Tilapia zillii
This study investigated several, previously little-known, aspects of reproductive physiology and endocrinology in the substrate-spawning cÌchlid Tilapia zillii; a tilapia that is becoming increasingly popular in world aquaculture. Studies were undertaken in controlled laboratory aquaria, thereby reducing the potential influence of environmental variation evident in many previous field studies of this species. Analysis involved two strains of T. zillii: strain 'A' (T. zillii) and strain 'B' (formerly known as Tilapia tholloni). Spawning periodicity and total fecundity generally increased with fish size. Egg size varied within a narrow window and did not generally increase with fish size though fish weighing 100 - 200g tended to produce the largest eggs. The best estimate of spawning periodicity was considered to be 'mean days elapsed/spawn' as this figure was based upon both spawning and non-spawning fish in an experimental group. Mean days elapsed/spawn increased with increasing fish size and averaged 61.4 days and 37.5 days in strains 'A' and 'B' respectively. The shortest reproductive cycles observed were just 7 days and 6 days for strains 'A' and 'B' respectively. Total fecundity ranged from 461 - 11640 eggs/clutch. Mean total fecundity was 3606+/-280 in strain 'A' and 3560+/-243 in strain 'B'. Mean egg diameter was 1.5+/-0.04mm and 1.4+/-0.08mm in strains 'A' and 'B' respectively. Fecundity and egg size also varied over successive spawns in serial-spawning females but these variations did not appear to be related to spawning periodicity. Regression analysis revealed strong relationships between fish size (weight and length) and total fecundity, relative fecundity and total egg volume. Relationships between fish size and egg size were generally much weaker. Fecundity and egg size were related to the length of the preceding inter-spawn-interval (ISI) in fish of certain weight categories but not others, providing limited evidence that length of ISI may in par, control fecundity and egg size in this species. Ovarian recrudescence was classified into ten distinct developmental stages based upon oocyte size, biochemical properties and structure. This classification scheme was comparable to classification schemes developed for other teleosts but represents the first detailed description of oocyte growth in a substrate-spawning tilapia. Radioimmunoassay and stereological analysis provided valuable and novel data concerning the dynamics of ovarian development in this species. Levels of 17ßoestradiol (E2) and testosterone (T) peaked within 6 days of spawning, suggesting that vitellogenesis began as early as day 2 or 3 post-spawning. By day 8, ovaries were dominated by large late-vitellogenic/maturing oocytes (stages 6 & 7) occupying 60 - 70% of the ovary. Gonadosomatic index (GSI) reached maximal levels by day 14. Since the proportion of stage 6/7 oocytes exhibited little change from day 8 onwards, it is suggested that pre-vitellogenic oocytes are recruited into vitellogenic growth immediately after spawning and complete vitellogenesis as early as day 8 postspawning. Analysis of serial-spawning fish found that initial post-spawn E2 and T peaks (on days 2 - 6) were much lower after the second spawning. Sex steroid levels were also found to be suppressed in confined T. zillii (i.e. where stocking densities were > lOkg/m3). Confined females failed to spawn but displayed a marked tendency to do so after transfer to individual aquaria. Serum E2 and T were suppressed during confinement but increased rapidly following transfer to individual aquaria (coincident with resumed spawning activity). It is suggested that levels of E2 and T under confinement are not sufficient to allow completion of vitellogenic growth and are most probably suppressed via a pheromonal mechanism. Finally, the present study investigated the effect of prolonged food restriction on various aspects of reproduction. T. zillii were rationed from first feeding and throughout the following 17 months. Despite very large differences in fish size, no significant differences were detected in total fecundity, egg diameter nor total egg volume once data had been adjusted for differences in fish size. These data suggest that despite very large differences in food availability throughout the periods of sexual differentiation and on-growing, investment in reproduction remained relatively consistent. It appeared that during food restriction, T. zillii sacrificed body weight and growth so as to maintain reproductive investment. In summary, this study provides valuable and novel information regarding the reproductive physiology and endocrinology of female T. zillii and suggests that this species may be a suitable 'model' species for future work on fecundity and ovarian development.