White suckers, collected from lakes containing elevated levels of copper (12 micrograms liter-1) and zinc (250 micrograms liter-1), were evaluated for reproductive performance, growth and survival of the larvae, and tolerance of the larvae to waterborne copper. Fertilization success was not impaired in white suckers from contaminated sites; metal-exposed males performed better than control males in fertilization trials with control eggs. Larvae hatched from eggs collected at contaminated sites and fertilized in clean water were smaller, developed at a slightly increased rate, and exhibited poorer growth and survival than larvae from control sites. Larvae showed significant changes in resistance and tolerance to copper with age. During the period of endogenous nutrition, larvae from eggs taken at contaminated sites showed increased resistance and tolerance to waterborne copper relative to controls. The effect was not seen in larvae at first feeding, at ages older than 4 days after the onset of feeding (25 days posthatch) or in larvae hatched from control eggs fertilized with sperm from males taken at contaminated sites. This study provides evidence for a maternal yolk factor associated with increased tolerance and resistance of larvae to copper.