Hope springs eternal in the starfish gonad: preserved potential for sexual reproduction in a single-clone population of a fissiparous starfish

García-Cisneros, ÁlexPérez-Portela, R.Wangensteen, Owen S.Campos-Canet, MartaPalacín, Cruz.  Hydrobiologia : DOI 10.1007/s10750-016-2971-8 (2016) DIGITAL CSIC

Among echinoderms, asexual reproduction by fission occurs in few species. This strategy is considered a temporary response to stressful conditions and usually alternates with sexual reproduction events; thus, monoclonal populations are extremely rare. The occurrence of a single-clone population of the starfish Coscinasterias tenuispina at Llanc¸a` (NW Mediterranean) allowed us to study intra-clonal variation of the reproductive cycle during a two-year study. The few developed gonads (all male) were found in winter months, coinciding with the minimum photoperiod (q = -0.82; P\0.001) and lowest temperatures (q = -0.75; P\0.001), only in bestfed individuals, indicating that food availability influences individual ability for gonad development. Fissiparity happened throughout all the sampled period, but its rate increased with warm temperatures (q = 0.68; P\0.0001). In contrast to what has been reported in other species, no correlation between fission rates and population density was found. The population was maintained over time by asexual reproduction and remained monoclonal. Although sexual reproduction has probably not occurred in this all-male population for a long time, the ability to yearly produce mature gonads is retained by some individuals, indicating that potential to reproduce sexually may be preserved, even in the case of strictly asexual populations.