We used the Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus, one of the largest brooding invertebrates in the Western Atlantic, to test for the presence/absence of active parental care and to explore reproductive performance in large brooding marine organisms. Given [i] the compact and large embryo masses produced by P. argus, [ii] the expected disproportional increase in brooding costs with increasing embryo mass size, and [iii] the theoretical allometry of egg production with increasing body size, we predicted that parental females in this large species will engage in active brood care. We also predicted that larger broods from larger lobsters should suffer higher mortality and brood loss than smaller broods from smaller lobsters if parental care was minimal or absent. Lastly, we expected smaller females to allocate disproportionably more resources to egg production than larger females in the case of minimal parental care.
Females brooding early and late embryos were collected from different reefs in the Florida Keys Reef tract, transported to the laboratory, and maintained in separate aquaria to describe and quantify active parental care during day and night. A second set of females was retrieved from the field and their carapace length, fecundity, egg size, reproductive output and presence/absence of brood-dwelling pathogens was recorded. Laboratory experiments demonstrated that brooding females of P. argus engaged in active brood care. Females likely use some of the observed behaviors (e.g., abdominal flapping, pleopod beating) to provide oxygen to their brood mass. In Panulirus argus, females did not suffer brood loss during embryo development. Also, reproductive output increased more than proportionally with a unit increase in lobster body weight.
Our results agree with the view that large brooding marine invertebrates can produce large embryo masses if they engage in active parental care and that the latter behavior greatly diminishes reproductive performance costs associated with producing large embryo masses. Lastly, we report on a nemertean worm that, we show, negatively impacts female reproductive performance.
Please use the publisher's recommended citation. https://bmczool.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40850-016-0006-6