Defining Patterns in Ocean Quahog (Arctica islandica) Sexual Dimorphism along the Mid-Atlantic Bight
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Defining Patterns in Ocean Quahog (Arctica islandica) Sexual Dimorphism along the Mid-Atlantic Bight

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  • Journal Title:
    Journal of Shellfish Research
  • Description:
    The ocean quahog, Arctica islandica (Linnaeus 1767), is a commercially important species along the western Atlantic continental shelf. It is a long-lived species, frequently reaching ages over 200 y. Uniquely, it is one of the few bivalves to display sexual dimorphism, in that females grow to sizes larger than those of males. This phenomenon is believed to occur because males reach sexual maturity before females and, thus, have slower growth rates earlier. The growth rates of A. islandica from four sites across the Mid-Atlantic Bight, Georges Bank, Long Island (LI), and north and south of the Hudson Canyon, were measured to determine patterns in growth between males and females. Females begin to outgrow males between the ages of 5 and 15 y at sizes 50–55 mm, though this varies amongst the sites and between decades. Each of the sites is unique in some way, but three sex-dependent growth dynamics are observed. Most commonly, the two sexes diverge in size with females outpacing males in growth rates after the first 5–15 y of life. This outcome occurs at all sites and is generally the most common outcome across decades. In a few cases, female growth rates outpace the males very early in ontogeny. Such cases occur at two sites north of Hudson Canyon, both on the LI continental shelf. Most rarely, the two sexes maintain similar growth rates. This is observed for a few decades at the most southern site. In the population as a whole, these rare outcomes have limited influence on the population so that female-to-male ratio consistently increases with increasing size. This sexually dimorphic growth is not caused by protandry, nor is it compensation for a differential mortality rate between the sexes. Cases where males grow as fast as females may be just as easily indicative of a constraint on female growth as a facilitation on male growth. Egg sizes in A. islandica are larger than those of most other bivalves with planktotrophic larvae. Accordingly, another viable hypothesis is that differential growth is an adaptation to support the large egg sizes in females, where larger female size is essential to counterweigh the consequent reduced fecundity due to larger egg volume.
  • Source:
    Journal of Shellfish Research 41(3), 335-348
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