Marine Biology

, Volume 148, Issue 5, pp 973–986 | Cite as

Reproduction of the commercial sea cucumber Holothuria whitmaei [Holothuroidea: Aspidochirotida] in the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions of Australia

  • Glenn R. ShiellEmail author
  • Sven Uthicke
Research Article


Seasonal trends in the gonad index (GI) of two widely separated populations of black teatfish, Holothuria whitmaei (formerly included in Holothuria nobilis), were investigated between Pacific (Great Barrier Reef) and Indian Ocean (Ningaloo Reef) coral reefs of Australia. Reproductive activity followed a similar annual trend, with the GI of both populations peaking typically between April and June. Macroscopic and histological analysis of Ningaloo Reef specimens revealed that large germinal tubules, positioned centrally on the gonad basis, progressed through four maturity stages: growing (II); mature (III); partly spawned (IV); and spent (V). Growing tubules dominated the central region of the gonad basis between January and March, followed by an increase in the number of mature tubules throughout the GI peak (April–June). The progressive appearance of partly spawned and spent tubules between June and October suggests that spawning in H. whitmaei continues intermittently over an extended period throughout the austral winter. The examination of the gonad structure of sexually mature male and female specimens identified five tubule size classes in total (C1 to C5), each of differing physical and gametogenic status. In females, smaller C1 tubules located at the anterior edge of the gonad basis contained pre- to early vitellogenic oocytes. Larger C2 and C3 tubule cohorts, positioned centrally on the gonad basis, contained mid- to late-stage vitellogenic oocytes. Smaller C4 and C5 tubules, located at the posterior edge, contained only relict oocytes. Similar physical and gametogenic differences were apparent between tubule cohorts in male specimens. We propose that these results, together with evidence of incomplete gonad resorption over the austral summer, indicate that gonad development in H. whitmaei conforms to the predictions of the Tubule Recruitment Model (TRM). The TRM is reported rarely among tropical aspidochirotes, and results presented here (1) provide the first direct evidence of this model in H. whitmaei, and (2) confirm that this species is one of the few winter-spawning tropical invertebrates.


Large Tubule Gonad Index Germinal Epithelium Gonad Structure Nutritive Phagocyte 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



For the provision of funding and research infrastructure, we thank Oceanwest Fisheries, Exmouth, R Hall of the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, and Glass Bottom Boats Ecology Cruises, Coral Bay. We are grateful to B Knott for assistance with earlier drafts of the manuscript and provision of laboratory facilities. GS is particularly grateful to N Malo, H Maitland and M Wolkenhauer for assistance in the field. We are also indebted to T Stewart for assistance with histology. The final manuscript benefited greatly from suggestions by Maria Byrne and two anonymous reviewers. This research was funded by an ARC SPIRT linkage grant to Brenton Knott and by a Fisheries Research Development Corporation (Project 98/133) grant to SU. Research was conducted in accordance with Conservation and Land Management (permit numbers NE002561, SF003283, SF003678) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority regulations (permit numbers G98/335, G99/281).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Animal Biology (MO92)University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceTownsvilleAustralia

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