Daphnids (Daphnia magna) utilize cyclic parthenogenesis as a reproductive strategy. During periods of abundant resources, these organisms reproduce asexually. In response to environmental cues that signal the onset of environmental adversity, daphnids produce males and reproduce sexually. The environmental cues that stimulate the sexual reproductive phase are well known; however, the endocrine signals that transduce these environmental cues remain unknown. The present study was undertaken to test the hypothesis that the crustacean juvenoid hormone, methyl farnesoate, is a male sex determinant in this species. Continuous exposure to aqueous concentrations of methyl farnesoate greater than approximately 30 nM stimulated a concentration-dependent production of male-containing broods of organisms. Short-term exposures to methyl farnesoate during periods of egg and embryo maturation revealed that male sex determination occurred during a specific 12-hour period of ovarian egg development. Exposure of eggs to 400 nM methyl farnesoate during this sensitive developmental period resulted in the production of all-male broods of offspring, while exposure to concentrations as low as 52 nM produced mixed broods of males and females. This active concentration range of methyl farnesoate is consistent with levels measured in the hemolymph of some decapod crustaceans. These results demonstrate that methyl farnesoate is capable of programming daphnid embryos to develop into males and is likely the endocrine factor responsible for initiating the sexual reproductive phase in these organisms.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.