Insufficient knowledge about physiological processes underpinning reproduction in the European flat oyster, Ostrea edulis (Linnaeus), presents a number of unique challenges when designing a large-scale selective breeding program for hatchery production. The European flat oyster is a larviparous, protandric hermaphrodite wherein asynchronous spawns and variable sex ratios can lead to loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding depression within hatchery populations as a result of disproportionate gametic contributions in mass matings. A better understanding of O. edulis physiology in relation to environmental factors has the potential to improve hatchery processes for synchronization of gametogenesis, thus increasing fertilization potential and maximizing breeding population size of broodstock. This study sought to determine whether specific conditioning procedures—notably, manipulation of temperature and photoperiod—could be used to improve synchrony of gametogenesis and predictability of sex ratios in O. edulis. Two trials of accelerated yearly variations of temperature and photoperiod were conducted to uncouple the specific role of these factors in the timing of gametogenesis and sex of gametes over several spawning cycles. Histological analysis and quantitative analysis of gonad using a gonad filling index allowed for determination of sex ratios and staging of gametogenesis. Temperature was a controlling factor, although experimental results suggested that the effects of photoperiod, uncoupled from temperature, had no effect on the timing or rate of gametogenesis, or on sex ratios during a breeding season. A better understanding of factors affecting sex ratio and synchrony in timing of gamete release will allow for improved conditioning and broodstock handling protocols in the selective breeding of O. edulis.
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