School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences Faculty Publications and Presentations

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The long-term impacts on marine ecosystems of the recent dramatic worldwide increase in the incidence of coastal hypoxia are unknown. Here, we show widespread reproductive disruption in Atlantic croakers collected from hypoxic sites approximately 120 km apart in the extensive northern Gulf of Mexico continental shelf hypoxic zone. Gonadal growth and gamete production were impaired in croakers from hypoxic sites compared with fish from reference normoxic sites east of the Mississippi River Delta. Male germ cells were detected in approximately 19 per cent of croaker ovaries collected in the hypoxic region, but were absent in ovaries from normoxic sites. In addition, the sex ratio was skewed towards males at the hypoxic sites. The masculinization and other reproductive disruptions were associated with declines in neuroendocrine function, as well as ovarian and brain expression of aromatase (the enzyme that converts androgens to oestrogens). A similar incidence of ovarian masculinization and decline in ovarian aromatase expression were observed in croaker after chronic laboratory hypoxia exposure, indicating that ovarian masculinization is a specific hypoxia response and is due to decreased aromatase activity. The results suggest severe reproductive impairment can occur over large coastal regions in marine fish populations exposed to seasonal hypoxia, with potential long-term impacts on population abundance.


This journal is © 2011 The Royal Society

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Publication Title

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences





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