Embryo oxygenation in pipefish brood pouches: novel insights

Ines Braga Goncalves, Ingrid Ahnesjo, Charlotta Kvarnemo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
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The pipefish brood pouch presents a unique mode of parental care that enables males to protect, osmoregulate, nourish and oxygenate the developing young. Using a very fine O-2 probe, we assessed the extent to which males of the broad-nosed pipefish (Syngnathus typhle) oxygenate the developing embryos and are able to maintain pouch fluid O-2 levels when brooding in normoxia (100% O-2 saturation) and hypoxia (40% O-2 saturation) for 24 days. In both treatments, pouch fluid-O-2 saturation levels were lower compared with the surrounding water and decreased throughout the brooding period, reflecting greater offspring demand for O-2 during development and/or decreasing paternal ability to provide O-2 to the embryos. Male condition (hepatosomatic index) was negatively affected by hypoxia. Larger males had higher pouch fluid O-2 saturation levels compared with smaller males, and levels were higher in the bottom section of the pouch compared with other sections. Embryo size was positively correlated with O-2 availability, irrespective of their position in the pouch. Two important conclusions can be drawn from our findings. First, our results highlight a potential limitation to brooding within the pouch and dismiss the notion of closed brood pouches as well-oxygenated structures promoting the evolution of larger eggs in syngnathids. Second, we provide direct evidence that paternal care improves with male size in this species. This finding offers an explanation for the documented strong female preference for larger partners because, in terms of oxygenation, the brood pouch can restrict embryo growth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1639-1646
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number11
Early online date3 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015


  • Embryo development
  • Fish
  • hypoxiamale size
  • Normoxia
  • paternal care
  • Syngnathidae


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