Factors affecting seasonal mortality of rosy bitterling (Rhodeus ocellatus kurumeus) embryos on the gills of their host mussel

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I investigated the seasonal change in factors affecting embryonic mortality in the rosy bitterling, Rhodeus ocellatus kurumeus, a freshwater fish that spawns on the gills of living unionid mussels. Research was conducted in a small pond during 1999 and 2001 in which bitterling were provided with Anodonta sp. mussels for spawning. Bitterling spawned between April and July, peaking mid–late May. Seasonal survival rate of bitterling embryos in their mussel hosts was unimodal, with a peak between late April and mid May (about 70% of total spawnings). In mid April, survival was about 50%. The lowest survival was from late May to July (0%). Losses of bitterling embryos from mussels were identified by ejections from the mussel host. Ejections were categorized as either ejections of live embryos, or ejections of embryos that died in the mussel and were subsequently expelled from the mussel. Ejection rates of live embryos were higher in the earlier part of the spawning period (early–mid April) and dead embryo ejections in the later period (after June). The ejection rate of live embryos was higher among younger embryos earlier in the season, probably because of the incomplete development of morphological and behavioural traits associated with maintaining the embryo inside the mussel gill chambers, and as a consequence of a more protracted developmental period at low temperatures making them more susceptible to ejection. The ejection rate of dead embryos was higher in older embryos later in the season, and in larger mussels and at high embryo densities. The survival of embryos in mussels was probably related to oxygen availability, with mortalities probably caused by asphyxiation. Increased embryo mortalities may arise through competition among embryos, between embryos and mussel, and ambient dissolved oxygen levels. The optimal period for bitterling to spawn may represent a balance between two opposing factors, with positive and negative effects of a seasonal rise in temperature directly affecting embryonic growth rate and oxygen availability.

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