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Brooding fathers, not siblings, take up nutrients from embryos

Journal article
Authors Gry Sagebakken
I Ahnesjö
K.B. Mobley
Ines Goncalves
Charlotta Kvarnemo
Published in Proceedings of the Royals Society B
Volume 277
Issue 1683
Pages 971–977
ISSN 0962-8452
Publication year 2010
Published at Department of Zoology, Animal Ecology
Pages 971–977
Language en
Links dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2009.1767
Keywords brood reduction; embryo absorption; female competition; post-mating
Subject categories Ethology and behavioural ecology

Abstract

It is well known that many animals with placenta-like structures provide their embryos with nutrients and oxygen. However, we demonstrate here that nutrients can pass the other way, from embryos to the parent. The study was done on a pipefish, Syngnathus typhle, in which males brood fertilized eggs in a brood pouch for several weeks. Earlier research has found a reduction of embryo numbers during the brooding period, but the fate of the nutrients from these ‘reduced’ embryos has been unknown. In this study, we considered whether (i) the brooding male absorbs the nutrients, (ii) siblings absorb them, or (iii) a combination of both. Males were mated to two sets of females, one of which had radioactively labelled eggs (using 14C-labelled amino acids), such that approximately half the eggs in the brood pouch were labelled. This allowed us to trace nutrient uptake from these embryos. We detected that 14C-labelled amino acids were transferred to the male brood pouch, liver and muscle tissue. However, we did not detect any significant 14C-labelled amino-acid absorption by the non-labelled half-siblings in the brood pouch. Thus, we show, to our knowledge, for the first time, that males absorb nutrients derived from embryos through their paternal brood pouch.

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