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Georgia Journal of Science

Article Title

ON GOING INVESTIGATIONS OF DWARF SEAHORSE (HIPPOCAMPUS ZOSTERAE) REPRODUCTIVE ECOLOGY IN A LAB ENVIRONMENT

Abstract

The decline of seagrass beds in Tampa Bay poses a threat to the species biodiversity in coastal communities. By studying the reproductive efforts in seahorses as a flagship species for seagrass ecosystems, we can better understand the reproductive mechanisms in wild populations found in threatened environments. This pilot experiment followed ten broods of lab-born dwarf seahorses (Hippocampus zosterae), whose parents were collected from Tampa Bay and paired in lab trials. The three primary goals of the project were to determine reproductive rates, growth rates of the offspring, and the survivorship of the broods in the lab environment. To control for different levels of animal handling, offspring for each brood were separated at birth into a photo, weight, or non-treatment group to collect data every eight days. Seahorse photographs were used to measure body sizes using the program ImageJ to calculate growth curves. Counts were conducted every four days to create survivorship curves for each treatment. Brood sizes ranged from 4 to 57 offspring with an overall average of 26 offspring per male (n=10). The average sizes for dwarf seahorse offspring at birth were 11.6942 mm for total body length and 2.63 mg for the ten broods. The variation of these brood sizes may provide evidence for a tradeoff between brood sizes and size at birth for this r-selected species. Trends show relatively high offspring survivorship for the first 30 days before declining drastically in all ten broods, with no differences across the three manipulation treatments within broods. These results will provide guidance for designing future survivorship experiments using a comparative approach across several species of seahorses. Conclusions from this study will offer insight into reproductive, growth, and survival rates of dwarf seahorses in a lab environment, which will be beneficial for future considerations of conservation statuses in the natural environment.

Acknowledgements

VSU Department of Biology

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