AB 3:63-70 (2008)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/ab00067

Gonadal tissue color is not a reliable indicator of sex in rocky intertidal mussels

Laura E. Petes1,3,*, Bruce A. Menge1, Francis Chan1, Molly A. H. Webb2

1Department of Zoology, 3029 Cordley Hall, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA
2Bozeman Fish Technology Center, 4050 Bridger Canyon Rd., Bozeman, Montana 59715, USA
3Present address: Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory, 3618 Highway 98, St. Teresa, Florida 32358-2702, USA

ABSTRACT: Gonadal tissue coloration was previously thought to be a reliable indicator of sex (male vs. female) in intertidal mussels. However, no investigations have been performed to determine whether color is an accurate representation of sex and to evaluate how this relationship varies throughout the environment. Patterns of gonadal tissue coloration were examined in the mussel Mytilus californianus along 2 environmental axes during the summer of 2004: (1) a food-availability gradient across 4 sites on the central Oregon coast and (2) a vertical (tidal height) stress gradient within each of the sites. Gonadal tissue color was unrelated to food availability. Both male and female mussels at the high edge of the mussel bed had orange gonadal tissue, contrary to conventional wisdom that mussel sex can be determined visually by gonadal color (males = white, females = orange). Field classification based on tissue color is therefore an unreliable indicator of sex in mussels. Environmental stress appears to influence patterns of tissue color (carotenoid pigment concentration) in the intertidal zone.


KEY WORDS: Mussel · Carotenoids · Color · Environmental stress · Reproduction · Rocky intertidal zone


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Cite this article as: Petes LE, Menge BA, Chan F, Webb MAH (2008) Gonadal tissue color is not a reliable indicator of sex in rocky intertidal mussels. Aquat Biol 3:63-70. https://doi.org/10.3354/ab00067

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