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Gametogenic cycle of the rough cockle Acanthocardia tuberculata (Mollusca: Bivalvia) in the M’diq Bay (SW Mediterranean Sea)

Afaf Rharrass 1, Mostapha Talbaoui 2, Miguel Gaspar 3, Mostapha Kabine 4, Nadia Rharbi 4

1 National Institute of Fisheries research, (INRH). Regional centre of Dakhla, Fisheries Laboratory, 73000, BP127BIS civ, Morocco. E-mail: afafrharrass@yahoo.fr; afafrharrass@gmail.com
2 National Institute of Fisheries research, (INRH). Regional centre of Tanger, Km 15 Route Ksar Sghir Cap Malabata, Morocco.
3 National Institute of biological resources (INRB, I.P.) / IPIMAR, Avenida 5 de Outubro s/n, P-8700-305 Olhão, Portugal.
4 University of Hassan II, Faculty of Sciences Ain Chock, Biological department, Km 8 Route d’El Jadida B.P 5366 Maarif Casablanca 20100, Morocco.

Summary: The reproductive cycle of Acanthocardia tuberculata (Linnaeus, 1758) was studied in M’diq Bay. The gonadal development was determined by means of standard histological techniques, mean oocyte diameters and a condition index. Rough cockle is a gonochoric species with synchronous gonadal development and spawning in males and females. The sex ratio obtained was not significantly different to 1:1. Gametogenesis began in late winter (November) coinciding with the temperature drop. In June, with increasing sea water temperature, most of the population was spent and resting oocytes appeared dispersed in the gonad. Resting stage occurred from August to October, during which time sex could not be determined in 100% of the population. A. tuberculata showed a clear seasonality in its gametogenic cycle, with one spawning peak per year in June. Quantitative measurements of 6318 oocyte diameters indicated the patterns of development observed in the qualitative staging. The results obtained revealed the direct influence of temperature on the reproductive cycle. First sexual maturity occurred at 42.77 mm shell length. The information gathered in this study allowed preliminary management measures to be suggested for the fishery of this species, including a closed season during the main spawning season (May-June) and the establishment of a minimum landing size (at least 50 mm shell length) for A. tuberculata from the Moroccan Mediterranean coast.

Keywords: Cardiidae; reproductive cycle; gametogenesis; image analysis; cockle; first sexual maturity.

Ciclo gametogénico de Acanthocardia tuberculata (Mollusca: Bivalvia) en la Bahía de M’diq (mar Mediterráneo)

Resumen: El ciclo reproductivo de Acanthocardia tuberculata (Linnaeus, 1758) se estudió en la bahía de M’diq. El desarrollo gonadal se determinó por medio de técnicas histológicas estándar, diámetros medios de ovocitos y un índice de condición. El corruco es una especie gonocórica con el desarrollo gonadal y desove sincrónico en machos y hembras. La proporción de sexos obtenida no fue significativamente diferente a1: 1. La gametogénesis comenzó a finales del invierno (noviembre) coincidiendo con la bajada de temperatura. En junio, con el aumento de la temperatura del agua de mar, la mayoría de la población era ovocitos gastados y dispersos en la gónada. La etapa de reposo entre agosto y octubre, tiempo durante el cual el sexo no se pudo determinar en el 100% de la población. A. tuberculata presentó una clara estacionalidad en su ciclo gametogénico, con un pico de desove en junio. Las mediciones de diámetros de 6.318 ovocitos dan los patrones de desarrollo observados desde el punto de vista cualitativo. Los resultados obtenidos revelaron la influencia directa de la temperatura en el ciclo reproductivo. La primera madurez sexual se produjo a los 42.77 mm de longitud de concha. La información obtenida en este estudio permitió sugerir medidas preliminares de gestión para la pesquería de esta especie, incluyendo una temporada de reposo durante el desove principal (mayo-junio) y el establecimiento de una talla mínima de recogida (de al menos 50 mm de longitud de concha) para A.tuberculata de la costa mediterránea marroquí.

Palabras clave: Cardiidae; ciclo reproductivo; gametogénesis; análisis de imagen; berberecho; primera madurez sexual.

Citation/Como citar este artículo: Rharrass A., Talbaoui M., Gaspar M., Kabine M., Rharbi N. 2016. Gametogenic cycle of the rough cockle Acanthocardia tuberculata (Mollusca: Bivalvia) in the M’diq Bay (SW Mediterranean Sea). Sci. Mar. 80(3): 359-368. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3989/scimar.04312.09A

Editor: J. Templado.

Received: July 2, 2015. Accepted: April 22, 2016. Published: September 23, 2016.

Copyright: © 2016 CSIC. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-by) Spain 3.0 License.

Contents

Summary
Resumen
Introduction
Materials and methods
Results
Discussion
References

INTRODUCTIONTop

The cockle Acanthocardia tuberculata (Linnaeus, 1758) is an Atlantic-Mediterranean species whose habitat ranges in the Atlantic from the southwestern British Isles to Morocco. It lives in fine, clean sand from low tide down to 100 m (Zavodnik and Šimunović 1997Zavodnik D., Šimunović A. 1997. Beskralješnjaci morskog dna Jadrana. Svjetlost, Sarajevo, 217 pp. (in Croatian)., Poppe and Goto 2000Poppe G.T., Goto Y. 2000. European seashells. Volume II (Scaphopoda, Bivalvia, Cephalopoda). ConchBooks, Hackenheim, 221 pp.). In Morocco A. tuberculata mainly occupies the depth ranged between isobaths 5 and 15 m and currently inhabits the shell-sand sediments admixture with gravel to muddy sand (Rharrass et al. 2011Rharrass A., Talbaoui M., Rharbi N., et al. 2011. Depth segregation phenomenon and the macrofaunal diversity associated to (Acanthocardia tuberculata) and (Callista chione), populations of the Northwest of Morocco. J. Mater. Environ. Sci. 2(S1): 584-589.). This fishery is located of the northwest coast of Morocco, involves more than five hundred fishermen and is very important for the local economy. This species is mainly exploited in this area by a fleet of 107 boats using the manual Portuguese dredge, which has remained unchanged throughout time. It consists of a small, heavy semi-circular iron structure with a net bag and a toothed lower bar at the mouth. To be efficient, this tough method demands three fishermen at least as crewmembers per vessel. In the north of Morocco, as at another localities (Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Greece), A. tuberculata is usually caught for human consumption along with the smooth clam (Callista chione). Both species often dominate the benthic macrofauna in M’diq Bay (Rharrass et al. 2011Rharrass A., Talbaoui M., Rharbi N., et al. 2011. Depth segregation phenomenon and the macrofaunal diversity associated to (Acanthocardia tuberculata) and (Callista chione), populations of the Northwest of Morocco. J. Mater. Environ. Sci. 2(S1): 584-589.). On the other hand, as reported by Peharda et al. (2012)Peharda M., Ezgeta-Balić D., Radman M., et al. 2012. Age, growth and population structure of Acanthocardia tuberculata (Bivalvia: Cardiidae) in the eastern Adriatic Sea. Sci. Mar. 76: 59-66. among others, in the areas of the Adriatic Sea these bivalves are collected by Scuba diving and A. tuberculata is not harvested for human consumption, though empty shells and occasional live specimens are collected sporadically for decorative purposes.

Few studies have been conducted on the reproduction of A. tuberculata (Marano et al. 1980Marano G., Casavolam N., Saracino C. 1980. A comparative study of the reproductive cycles of Chamelea gallina (L.), Venus verrucosa (L.), Rudicardium tuberculatum (L.) in the lower Adriatic Sea. Mem. Biol. Mar. Oceanogr. 10: 229-234., Tirado et al. 2002bTirado C., Rodrígues de la Rúa A.F., Bruzón M.A., et al. 2002b. La reproduccion de bivalvos y gasterópodos de interés pesquero en Andalucía. Junta de Andalucía, Consejería de Agricultura y Pesca, Huelva, 129 pp.), and research has mainly focused on the accumulation of biotoxins (Berenguer et al. 1993Berenguer J., González L., Jiménez I., et al. 1993. The effect of commercial processing on the paralytic shellfish poison (PSP) content of naturally contaminated Acanthocardia tuberculatum. L. Food Addit. Contam. 10: 217-230., Tagmouti et al. 2000Tagmouti T.F., Moutaouakkil A., Taib N., et al. 2000. Detection of Paralytic and Diarrhetic Shellfish Toxins in Moroccan Cockles (Acanthocardia tuberculata). Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 65: 707-716., Vale and Sampayo 2002Vale P., Sampayo M.A. 2002. Evaluation of marine biotoxin’s accumulation by Acanthocardia tuberculatum from Algarve, Portugal. Toxicon 40: 511-517., Sagou et al. 2005Sagou R., Amanhir R., Taleb H., et al. 2005. Comparative study on differential accumulation of PSP toxins between cockle (Acanthocardia tuberculatum) and sweet clam (Callista chione). Toxicon 46: 612-618., Vale and Taleb 2005Vale P., Taleb H. 2005. Assessment of the qualitative determination of paralytic shellfish poisoning toxins by pre-column derivatization and elimination of interfering compounds by solid-phase extraction. Food Addit. Contam. 22: 838-846., Takati et al. 2007Takati N., Mountassif D., Taleb H., et al. 2007. Purification and partial characterization of paralytic shellfish poison-binding protein from Acanthocardia tuberculatum. Toxicon 50: 311-321.). Some studies have also focused on analysing metal concentrations (Hornung 1989Hornung H. 1989. Metal levels in some benthic organisms of Haifa Bay, Mediterranean (Israel). Toxicol. Environ. Chem. 20: 255-260.), shell structure (Zolotoybko and Quintana 2002Zolotoybko E., Quintana J.P. 2002. Non-destructive microstructural analysis with depth resolution: application to seashells. J. Appl. Cryst. 35: 594-599.) and gene organization of the mitochondrial genome (Dreyer and Steiner 2006Dreyer H., Steiner G. 2006. The complete sequences and gene organisation of the mitochondrial genomes of the heterodont bivalves Acanthocardia tuberculata and Hiatella arctica and the first record for a putative Atpase subunit 8 gene in marine bivalves. Front. Zool. 3: 1-14.). Distribution data have been provided in several publications (Jukić et al. 1998Jukić S., Vrgoč N., Tonković M. 1998. A contribution to knowledge of distribution of the some commercially important sea shells, especially Chamelea gallina (L.), along the eastern Adriatic. Biol. Mar. Medit. 5: 376-381., Zenetos et al. 2005Zenetos A., Vardala-Theodorou E., Alexandrakis C. 2005. Update of the marine Bivalvia Mollusca checklist in Greek waters. J. Mar. Biol. Ass. UK 85: 993-998., Siletić 2006Siletić T. 2006. Marina fauna of Mljet national park (Adriatic Sea), Croatia. Nat. Croat. 15: 109-169., Rufino et al. 2010Rufino M.M., Gaspar M.B., Pereira A.M., et al. 2010. Ecology of megabenthic bivalve communities from sandy beaches on the south coast of Portugal. Sci. Mar. 74: 163-178.). A recent study on the age, growth and population structure of Acanthocardia tuberculata was carried out by Peharda et al. (2010)Peharda M., Ezgeta-Balić D., Vrgoč N., et al. 2010. Bivalve community structure in the Croatian part of the Adriatic Sea – a hydraulic dredge survey. Acta. Adriat. 51: 141-157. in the eastern Adriatic Sea. In the northwest of Morocco a previous study on the depth segregation of Acanthocardia tuberculata revealed a correlation between mean length and depth segregation, in which adults are positioned higher but without exceeding a depth of 15 m (Rharrass et al. 2011Rharrass A., Talbaoui M., Rharbi N., et al. 2011. Depth segregation phenomenon and the macrofaunal diversity associated to (Acanthocardia tuberculata) and (Callista chione), populations of the Northwest of Morocco. J. Mater. Environ. Sci. 2(S1): 584-589.). From the work of Boutaib et al. (2011)Boutaib R., Marhraoui M., Oulad Abdellah M.K., et al. 2011. Comparative study on faecal contamination and occurrence of Salmonella spp. and Vibrio parahaemolyticus in two species of Shellfish in Morocco. Open Environ. Sci. 5: 30-37. on the faecal contamination of the red cockle at M’Diq and Oued Laou, shellfish can be sold more safely after purification under heat treatment.

Acanthocardia tuberculata is being intensively exploited on the north coast of Morocco, leading to overexploitation of the natural banks. The lack of suitable management measures such as a closed season in the north of Morocco is due to the absence of biological studies on the reproductive cycle of this species in the area. Hence, the aim of this paper is to provide information on the reproductive cycle of A. tuberculata on the west Mediterranean coast of Morocco and to suggest a closed season and the minimum commercial size for a more sustainable management of this fishery. A correct estimate of the size at first maturity is a common tool for adopting the legal minimum size allowed for fishing and was succesfuly suggested by several authors to implement suitable fishery management measures (Moura et al. 2008Moura P., Gaspar M.B., Monteiro C.C. 2008. Gametogenic cycle of the smooth clam (Callista chione) on the south-western coast of Portugal. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. UK 88: 161-167., Elhassni et al. 2010Elhassni K., Ghorbel M., Vasconcelos P. et al. 2010. Reproductive cycle and size at first sexual maturity of Hexaplex trunculus (Gastropoda: Muricidae) in the Gulf of Gabès (southern Tunisia). Invertebr. Reprod. Dev. 54: 213-225., Galimany et al. 2015Galimany E., Baeta M., Durfort M., et al. 2015. Reproduction and size at first maturity in a Mediterranean exploited Callista chione bivalve bed. Sci. Mar. 79: 233-242.).

Materials and methodsTop

The rough cockle (Acanthocardia tuberculata) was collected monthly on the western Mediterranean coast of Morocco (northwest Morocco, on the western part of its Mediterranean facades in proximity to the Strait of Gibraltar). The sampling operations were carried out for 16 months between November 2009 and April 2011 at inshore sites of M’diq Bay (Fig. 1) representing the highest density distribution of the local A. tuberculata population. The samplings were undertaken using a commercial fishing boat with an artisanal dredge. Because of the climatic conditions sampling of two months (December 2009 and September 2010) was missed. The specimens were collected using a dredge with a toothed aperture of 16×18 cm. Additionally, in order to catch smaller individuals, the usual net bag used by the fishermen of the area (6 cm mesh), was replaced by a smaller, stretched mesh size (2.5 cm) (Rharrass et al. 2011Rharrass A., Talbaoui M., Rharbi N., et al. 2011. Depth segregation phenomenon and the macrofaunal diversity associated to (Acanthocardia tuberculata) and (Callista chione), populations of the Northwest of Morocco. J. Mater. Environ. Sci. 2(S1): 584-589.).

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Fig. 1. – Location of M’diq Bay on the northwest coast of Morocco (near Strait of Gibraltar, SW Mediterranean Sea), where Acanthocardia tuberculata were collected.

In order to study the sex ratio, 783 specimens measuring between 32.7 and 70.3 mm in shell length (SL) were analysed. In most cases, the sex was identified macroscopically by the colour and consistency of the gonad, which differs between sexes. Female gonads are whitish with a milky consistency, while male gonads are yellowish-orange with a granular consistency. Whenever the sex could not be identified macroscopically, a smear of the gonad was taken and examined under a microscope (Moura et al. 2008Moura P., Gaspar M.B., Monteiro C.C. 2008. Gametogenic cycle of the smooth clam (Callista chione) on the south-western coast of Portugal. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. UK 88: 161-167.).

Maturation stage of the gonad was determined for 30 individuals sampled each month throughout a 16-month period (from November 2009 to April 2011) from a site off M’diq Bay. Specimens with SL greater than 50 mm were used, because individuals of this size consistently contain gametogenic material. A sample of the gonad of each of the individuals sampled monthly (≥50 mm) was also prepared for histological examination.

After a 24-h Davidson fixation, in preparing slides for microscopic examination, tissues were dehydrated with serial dilutions of alcohol and embedded in paraffin. Using a microtome, 2- to 3-µm-thick sections were cut to produce very thin sections that were placed on a microscope slide ready for clearing. After clearing, only the tissue remained adhering to the slide. The mounted sections were treated with hematoxylin and eosin histology stain. The final step in this procedure was to permanently mount the sections under a cover slip using Eukitt mounting reagent Roti® Histokitt (Roth).

The stages of gonad development were scored according to the scale proposed by Gaspar and Monteiro (1998)Gaspar M., Monteiro C. 1998. Reproductive cycles of the razor clam (Ensis siliqua) and the clam (Venus striatula) off Vilamoura, southern Portugal. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. UK 78: 1247-1258. and Moura et al. (2008)Moura P., Gaspar M.B., Monteiro C.C. 2008. Gametogenic cycle of the smooth clam (Callista chione) on the south-western coast of Portugal. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. UK 88: 161-167. as follows: Stage 0, inactive/resting; Stage I, early active; Stage II, late active; Stage III, ripe; Stage IV, partially spawned; and Stage V, spent. The reproductive period was considered as the time when the clams were in Stage IV. When more than one developmental stage occurred simultaneously within a single individual, the decision about the staging criteria was based upon the condition of the majority of the section.

A quantitative analysis was also carried out by measuring the oocyte diameter. Only slides of female gonad are used for this analysis because, according to the comparative analysis, no differences were detected between male and female in terms of either gametogenic development or spawning. The follicle images were recorded with a Sony DKC-CM30 camera and processed using the Zeiss-KS100 image analysis software (release 3.0). From each month, 10 slides where chosen and follicles were randomly selected from each one: the second follicle above, below, on the left and on the right of the follicle initially chosen in the middle, in which all oocytes were counted and measured (Moura et al. 2008Moura P., Gaspar M.B., Monteiro C.C. 2008. Gametogenic cycle of the smooth clam (Callista chione) on the south-western coast of Portugal. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. UK 88: 161-167.). The same procedure was followed for an additional five follicles.

The results of monthly oocyte measurements by image analysis were used to determine the average number of oocytes by individuals in female gonads. Histograms of oocyte size frequency were analysed to track the temporal evolution of oocyte cohorts for each of the sampled females throughout 16 months. The results were converted into curves for better understanding.

Additionally, a total of 480 specimens were used for the analysis of a condition index (CI) for each sample, calculated as mean ash-free dry weight/dry shell weight (Walne and Mann 1975Walne P., Mann R. 1975. Growth and biochemical composition in Ostrea edulis and Crassostrea gigas. In: Barnes H.B. (ed). Proceedings of the Ninth European Marine Biology Symposium, Aberdeen Univ. Press: Aberdeen, 587-607 pp.). The length of 30 specimens was measured monthly, and the soft parts were then pulled out of the shell, placed in the drying stove at 105°C for 24 h, and weighed to the nearest milligram. This index was calculated for a standard sample of 60 mm in order to suppress the effect of growth so that accumulation or loss of organic matter associated with reproduction could be shown.

In order to determine the size at first maturity, defined as the SL at which 50% of the population is mature, SL50, an additional sample of 250 specimens (ranging between 23.96 and 65.56 mm SL) was analysed in June 2012. This month was selected because, according to the histological analysis made in the same month of the previous year, all adult specimens were either at the ripe or spawning stages. The gonads of these specimens were monitored using the histological methods described above. The collected individuals were classified as mature and immature individuals. Mature individuals with gonads in stages III and IV were classified by size class at an interval of 10 mm (Moura et al. 2008Moura P., Gaspar M.B., Monteiro C.C. 2008. Gametogenic cycle of the smooth clam (Callista chione) on the south-western coast of Portugal. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. UK 88: 161-167.). The percentage of mature individuals was calculated for each sex and size class, and then the STATISTICA software (Pauly 1984Pauly D. 1984. Fish Population Dynamics in Tropical Waters: A Manual for Use with Programmable Calculators. ICLARM Studies and Reviews, No. 8. Int. Center Living Aquat. Res. Manage., Manila, Philippines, 325 pp.) was used to fit a logistic model to the data, through the following equation:

P = 1 / 1 + e–r (SL – SL50)

where P is the proportion of mature individuals, SL the shell length (mm), SL50 the shell length (mm) at which 50% of the individuals are mature, and r a constant (Pauly 1984Pauly D. 1984. Fish Population Dynamics in Tropical Waters: A Manual for Use with Programmable Calculators. ICLARM Studies and Reviews, No. 8. Int. Center Living Aquat. Res. Manage., Manila, Philippines, 325 pp.).

To evaluate the possible influence of environmental factors on the gametogenic cycle, seawater samples were taken for determination of temperature and chlorophyll a (Chl a). The samples were collected in the water column near the bottom (0.3 m above the seabed). A water sample (2 L) was taken from the bottom for determination of Chl a. Pigment analyses were carried out by filtering the water through Whatman GF/C glass filters and the pigments of the retained cells were then extracted with acetone for 12 h in cool, dark conditions, following the recommendations of Lorenzen and Jeffrey (1980)Lorenzen C.J., Jeffrey S.W. 1980. Determination of chlorophyll in seawater. Unesco technical papers in marine science 35, Paris, 20 pp.. Concentrations of Chl a were calculated using the monochromatic equations (Lorenzen 1967Lorenzen C.J. 1967. Determination of chlorophyll and phaeopigments: spectrophotometric equations. Limnol. Oceanogr. 12: 343-346.).

Sex-ratios were checked against a 1:1 ratio with a χ2 test. Sexual and seasonal variations in histological parameters, CI and oocyte diameter (OD) were analysed by ANOVA. To assess the influence of the environmental factors on the reproductive cycle, correlations between different environmental parameters (temperature and Chl a) and the monthly gametogenic variables studied (percentage of spawning, CI and OD) were determined. Assumptions of normality were verified prior to selecting a correlation coefficient (Spearman or Pearson).

ResultsTop

The sex ratio obtained from monthly gonad samples for A. tuberculata is given in Figure 2. A month-by-month analysis showed that it was, however, impossible to determine the sex between August and October, so the months with more than two individuals in cytolized stage were not considered for the sex ratio estimation. From the remaining individuals analysed, 49.45% were females and 48.98% males. According to the χ2 test the sex ratio obtained from the total number of individuals sampled (χ2=0.57; P>0.05) and from comparisons by months was not significantly different from 1:1.

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Fig. 2. – Relative frequency (%) of sexes during the study. χ2-test, P >0.05 (M, male; F, female).

Histological examinations of the gonads from the 16-month sampling demonstrated that in the reproductive cycle of A. tuberculata at the sexes were clearly separated and no simultaneous hermaphrodites were found (Fig. 3). The results indicate synchronous gonadal development and spawning in males and females. No significant differences between the frequencies of the same stages in males and females were found (ANOVA, P>0.05). A synchrony was also detected among individuals. The gonadal cycle (as seen in Figure 4) showed that the phases of the gametogenesis were well delimited.

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Fig. 3. – Photomicrographs of developmental stages of Acanthocardia tuberculata female and male gonads: A, Stage 0, resting; B, Stage I, early active; C, Stage II, late active; D, Stage III, ripe; E, Stage IV, partially spawned; and F, Stage V, spent.

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Fig. 4. – Monthly frequency of gonad developmental stages of Acanthocardia tuberculata. 0, resting; I, early active; II, late active; III, ripe; IV, partially spawned, and V, spent.

The smallest specimen of rough cockle identified in gametogenesis phases measured 48.81 mm in length and was a male in early active stage collected in November; the remaining samples varied by up to 68.10 mm in a male. By November (both in 2009 and 2010), the gametogenic cycle had already begun and 20% to 30% of the population was in an early active stage (Fig. 4). However, the remainder of the population still remained in the resting stage (stage 0) with empty follicles, so it was impossible to sex the individuals.

From the first half of January 2010, early active and late active stages of gonadal development (43.4% and 50.0% respectively) coexisted similarly. The gametogenesis was slow until February, when mature gonads were recognized. The ripening stage lasted longer, because sexual maturity began in the first months of spring and 66.7% of the specimen reached full ripeness in April. Spawning was found to start in early summer 2010, with one peak in June. Towards the end of July 2010 about 40% of the population was in the resting stage.

Between August and October all the individuals examined were found to be in the resting stage, with their gonads completely empty and contracted, and sexes were hard to determine either macroscopically or microscopically. No apparent differences were observed between the sexes in the same months in 2009 and 2011. Figure 5 shows the evolution of near-bottom water temperature (NBWT), OD, Chl a and CI during the study period. NBWT registered in M’diq Bay ranged between 15.6°C and 21.1°C, with low and high values in winter and summer, respectively. In general, a decrease in the NBWT was observed between November and April, whereas this environmental parameter began to increase progressively from May to reach its maximum in June, and stabilized during the summer months (June to August). Small variations were observed between consecutive years; in 2011 the mean seabed temperature was slightly lower in winter months. The Chl a content (Fig. 5) showed a maximum peak in March, April and November 2010 and a lower peak in July 2010 and April 2011. Between these extremes we observed minimum levels of Chl a.

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Fig. 5. – Correlations between monthly environmental parameters and gametogenic descriptors for A. tuberculata at M’diq Bay (SW Mediterranean Sea): A, near-bottom water temperature; B, changes in concentration of chlorophyll a in near-bottom sea water; C, mean oocyte diameter (OD); D, mean condition index (CI).

In the main, CI decreased with the ripeness of the gonad and with the onset of the spawning period in both years (Fig. 5). However, this trend was reversed in February (in both 2010 and 2011) and at the beginning of the resting period. Results of correlations between CI and the other descriptors of the reproductive cycle tested (Table 1) showed a significant reverse correlation between CI and spent percentage (r=-0.59; P=0.022; P<0.05).

Table 1. – Results of correlations (Spearman coefficient) between the descriptors of the reproductive cycle of A. tuberculata in M’diq Bay. The variances of the statistical test and those of the probability are mentioned [NS :(P>0.05); S:(P<0.05)].

CI/OD CI/% spent OD/% spent
r p r p r p
0.018 0.95 NS –0.59 0.022 S 0.39 0.145 NS

Quantitative measurements of 6318 oocyte diameters support the patterns observed in the qualitative staging (Fig. 4). The number of oocytes per follicle in November (2009 and 2010) was the lowest of the year, showing the smallest mean oocyte diameter (16.12±3.0 µm) and indicating that spawning had occurred. Due to the ripening of gonads, the monthly mean diameter of oocytes started to increase from January and by April it had reached its maximum value (38.32±3.6 µm). The decrease of mean OD in May corresponded with the onset of the spawning event in some individuals and the oocyte diameter kept decreasing until July. The vanishing of oocytes by August indicates the start of the inactive period, which extended until October. After the resting period, another reproductive cycle started again from November and was noted by an enhancement of OD.

Average ODs associated with stages of development (Fig. 6) showed that they were related to each other. The early active stage was characterized by a mean OD of 17.1±5.2 μm, which increased during gonadal maturation, attaining 31.2±5.3 and 34.9±4.3 μm in late active and ripe gonads, respectively. In the partially spawned stage the mean oocyte diameter decreased slightly to 34.6±4.1 μm. The mean oocyte diameter continued its decrease in the spent stage (26.0±11.4 μm) but remained high due to the presence of degenerating oocytes.

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Fig. 6. – Average oocyte diameters relating to each stage of development of A. tuberculata: I, early active; II, late active; III, ripe; IV, partially spawned; V, spent.

The frequency distributions of oocyte size in females of A. tuberculata displayed a noteworthy monthly oscillation during the study of gonadal activity (Fig. 7). The seasonal variation in the frequency distributions of oocytes corroborated the previous data and showed five oocyte cohorts corresponding to the different gonadal stages. The seasonal evolution of oocyte cohorts followed a unimodal model, confirming a preparation for a single spawning event. From November (2009 and 2010), a resurgence of oocytes was recognized, and there was a clear dominance of the modal diameter <20 µm, indicating that the reproductive cycle had started. Growth of oocytes continued monthly until April, when it reached the highest values (30≤OD≤50 µm), indicating a ripening period. In May a slight decrease in the frequency of mature oocytes was recorded due to spawning of some individuals. The diameter of oocytes decreased significantly in June, certifying that spawning had occurred completely, but in July the frequencies of mature oocytes underwent a higher decrease. An absence of oocytes between August and October indicated that all females had released their genital products and entered the resting phase.

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Fig. 7. – Monthly variation in the frequency distributions of oocyte diameter in females of A. tuberculata.

Spearman correlation coefficients were estimated between the descriptors of the reproductive cycle (OD, CI and % spent) and environmental parameters (temperature and Chl I) and were calculated simultaneously. Only the temperature was directly and negatively correlated with OD (Spearman; r=–0.62; P=0.006; P<0.05).

The estimation of the size at sexual maturity (Fig. 8) was based on the microscopic examination of gonads of 250 individuals collected in M’diq Bay on June 2012. This month was selected because, according to the histological analysis made in the same month of the previous year, all adult specimens were either at the ripe or spawning stages, with their sizes ranging between 23.9 and 65.56 mm. In order to determine the size at first maturity in the A. tuberculata population, the individuals were grouped into size-classes of 5 mm SL and the relative frequency of ripe and spawning organisms per size class was fitted to a logistic model (r=0.87, Fig. 8). The smallest matured individual found in the population was a male measuring 32.94 mm SL, whereas the largest individual identified was a female measuring 65.56 mm. Even when some individuals reached their first sexual cycle at 30-35 mm, the size at first sexual maturity (SL50) for A. tuberculata was estimated at 42.77 mm SL.

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Fig. 8. – Shell length at first maturity for A. tuberculata. Proportion of mature individuals in May 2012 in relation to shell length.

DiscussionTop

A clear sexual dimorphism was observed during the study, since differences were observed in the colour of the male and female gonads. The sex ratio was not significantly different to 1:1. Contrary to our result, Tirado et al. (2002b)Tirado C., Rodrígues de la Rúa A.F., Bruzón M.A., et al. 2002b. La reproduccion de bivalvos y gasterópodos de interés pesquero en Andalucía. Junta de Andalucía, Consejería de Agricultura y Pesca, Huelva, 129 pp. from southern Spain observed no sexual dimorphism in the gonad colour in the population of A. tuberculata and also reported that the sexes could not be determined by the colour. No other studies on the reproductive cycle of A. tuberculata were found in the literature.

The present investigation of rough cockle gonads suggests only one reproductive event per year from April to July and showed a period of sexual repose from August to November. Both sexes showed a synchronism in gonadal development and spawning. The gonadal development of this species has been previously studied once through histological analysis in the Mediterranean Sea (Tirado et al. 2002bTirado C., Rodrígues de la Rúa A.F., Bruzón M.A., et al. 2002b. La reproduccion de bivalvos y gasterópodos de interés pesquero en Andalucía. Junta de Andalucía, Consejería de Agricultura y Pesca, Huelva, 129 pp.). In this study, populations of A. tuberculata from southern Spain exhibited a reproductive event between April and July, and a resting stage between August and December. The existence of a sexual resting period has also been described for other temperate bivalves (Spisula solida: Gaspar and Monteiro 1999Gaspar M., Monteiro C. 1999. Gametogenesis and spawning in the subtidal white clam (Spisula solida), in relation to temperature. J. Mar. Biol. Ass. UK 79: 753-755., Joaquim et al. 2008Joaquim S., Matias D., Lopes B., et al. 2008. The reproductive cycle of white clam (Spisula solida) (L.): Implications for aquaculture and wild stock management. Aquaculture 281: 43-48.; Scrobicularia plana: Rodríguez-Rúa et al. 2003Rodríguez-Rúa A., Prado M., Romero Z., et al. 2003. The gametogenic cycle of Scrobicularia plana (da Costa, 1778) (Mullusc: Bivalve) in Guadalquivir estuary (Cádiz, SW Spain). Aquaculture 217: 157-166.; Mesodesma mactroides: Herrmann et al. 2009Herrmann M., Alfaya J.E., Lepore M.L., et al. 2009. Reproductive cycle and gonad development of the Northern Argentinean Mesodesma mactroides (Bivalvia: Mesodesmatidae). Helgol. Mar. Res. 63: 207-218.).

Monthly mean oocyte diameter has proven to be a useful tool for studying the gonad development of the rough cockle, and has also been used previously in several bivalves (Argopecten irradians: Sastry 1979Sastry A.N. 1979. Pelecypoda (excluding Ostreidae). In: Giese A.C., Pearse J.S. (eds.), Reproduction of Marine Invertebrates, vol. 5. Academic Press, New York, pp. 113-292.; Eurhomalea exalbida: Morriconi et al. 2002Morriconi E., Lomovask B.J., Calvo J., et al. 2002. The reproductive cycle of Eurhomalea exalbida (Bivalvia, veneridae) in Ushuaia Bay (54° 50’S), Beagle Channel (Argentina). Invertebr. Reprod. Dev. 42: 61-68.; Callista chione: Metaxatos 2004Metaxatos A. 2004. Population dynamics of the venerid bivalve (Callista chione) in a coastal area of the eastern Mediterranean. J. Sea. Res. 52: 293-305., Moura et al. 2008Moura P., Gaspar M.B., Monteiro C.C. 2008. Gametogenic cycle of the smooth clam (Callista chione) on the south-western coast of Portugal. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. UK 88: 161-167.; Spisula solida: Joaquim et al. 2008Joaquim S., Matias D., Lopes B., et al. 2008. The reproductive cycle of white clam (Spisula solida) (L.): Implications for aquaculture and wild stock management. Aquaculture 281: 43-48.; Mesodesma mactroides: Hermann et al. 2009Herrmann M., Alfaya J.E., Lepore M.L., et al. 2009. Reproductive cycle and gonad development of the Northern Argentinean Mesodesma mactroides (Bivalvia: Mesodesmatidae). Helgol. Mar. Res. 63: 207-218.). Likewise, findings from this study revealed a progressive increase in the average OD as reproductive development progresses: 17.1±5.2 µm in early gametogenesis, 38.32±3.6 µm in April, and 26.0±11.4 μm in the spent stage.

The number of spawning events and the duration of the spawning period can vary greatly between species, geographic area, and environmental conditions (Gosling 2003Gosling E. 2003. Bivalve Molluscs: Biology, Ecology and Culture. Fishing News Books, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 456 pp.) such as water temperature, salinity and food availability (Sastry 1970Sastry A. 1970. Reproductive physiological variation in latitudinally separated populations of the bay scallop Aequipecten irradians Lamarck. Biol. Bull. 138: 56-65., De Villiers 1975De Villiers G. 1975. Growth, population dynamics, mass mortality and arrangement of white sand mussels, Donax serra Roding, on beaches in the south-western Cape Province. Invest. Rep. Sea Fich. Brch. S. Africa 109: 1-31., Peredo et al. 1986Peredo S., Parada E., Valdebenito I. 1986. Gametogenesis and reproductive cycle of the surf clam Mesodesma donacium (Lamarck, 1818) (Bivalvia: Mesodesmatidae) at Queule Beach, southern Chile. Veliger 30: 55-68., Penchaszadeh et al. 2000Penchaszadeh P., Paredes C., Salaya J. 2000. Reproductive cycle of the south American scallop Amusium laurenti (Gmelin, 1791) (Bivalvia, Pectinidae). Aquac. Int. 8: 227-235., Kraeuter and Castagna 2001Kraeuter J., Castagna M. 2001. Biology of the hard clam. Developments in Aquaculture and Fsheries Science 31. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 772 pp., Laudien et al. 2001Laudien J., Brey T., Arntz W. 2001. Reproduction and recruitment patterns of the surf clam Donax serra (Bivalvia, Donacidae) on two Namibian sandy beaches. S. Afr. J. Mar. Sci. 23: 53-60.). These parameters are known to directly affect the physiological status of bivalves, regulating gametogenic cycles and spawning, among other physiological processes (Galimany et al. 2015Galimany E., Baeta M., Durfort M., et al. 2015. Reproduction and size at first maturity in a Mediterranean exploited Callista chione bivalve bed. Sci. Mar. 79: 233-242.). In agreement with these studies, a strong negative correlation between temperature and seasonal variation of the OD (r=–0.67; P<0,005) was observed in this study. The highest temperature recorded was 21.1°C, coinciding with a period of sexual repose, and the beginning of gametogenesis coincided with a decrease in temperature in November. Spawning in late spring has the advantage of relatively high temperature and phytoplankton concentration in the water column, and therefore larval growth can be fast (Cardoso et al. 2006Cardoso J.F., Witte M.F., Johannes I.J., et al. 2006. Reproductive investment of the bivalves (Cerastoderma edule) and (Mya arenaria) in the Dutch Wadden Sea. Report of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, chapter 4, pp. 47-64.).

In bivalves, oocyte size depends on the energy available, the reproductive strategy of the species, and its life history, age, location and environmental stressors (Giese 1966Giese A. 1966. Lipids in the economy of marine invertebrates. Physiol. Rev. 46: 244-298., 1969Giese A.C. 1969. A new approach to the biochemical composition of the mollusc body. Oceanogr. Mar. Biol. 7: 175-229., Honkoop and Van der Meer 1998Honkoop P.J., Van der Meer J. 1998. Experimentally induced effects of water temperature and immersion time on reproductive output of bivalves in the Wadden Sea. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 220: 227-246., Toro et al. 2002Toro J.E., Thompson R.J., Innes D.J. 2002. Reproductive isolation and reproductive output in two sympatric mussel species (Mytilus edulis, M. trossulus) and their hybrids from Newfoundland. Mar. Biol. 141: 897-909., Maloy et al. 2003Maloy A.P., Barber B.J., Rawson P.D. 2003. Gametogenesis in a sympatric population of blue mussels, Mytilus edulis and Mytilus trossulus, from Cobscook Bay (USA). J. Shellfish Res. 22: 119-124., Meneghetti et al. 2004Meneghetti F., Moschino V., da Ros L. 2004. Gametogenic cycle and variation in oocyte size of the Tapes philippinarum from the Lagoon of Venice. Aquaculture 240: 473-488.). However, several authors have pointed out that the reproductive cycle of suspension feeders is not only influenced by physical parameters such as sea surface temperature (SST), but also by changes in phytoplankton biomass and its species composition (Sastry 1968Sastry N. 1968. The relationship among food, temperature, and Agonad development of the bay scallops Aequipecten irradians (Lamarck). Physiol. Zool. 41, 44-53., 1979Sastry A.N. 1979. Pelecypoda (excluding Ostreidae). In: Giese A.C., Pearse J.S. (eds.), Reproduction of Marine Invertebrates, vol. 5. Academic Press, New York, pp. 113-292., Carreto et al. 1995Carreto J.I., El Busto C.E., Sancho H., et al. 1995. An exploratory analysis of the Mar del Platt shellfish toxicity area (1980-1990). In: Smayda T.J., Shimizu Y. (eds). Toxic Phytoplankton Blooms in the Sea. Elsevier Science, Amsterdam, pp. 377-382., Herrmann et al. 2009Herrmann M., Alfaya J.E., Lepore M.L., et al. 2009. Reproductive cycle and gonad development of the Northern Argentinean Mesodesma mactroides (Bivalvia: Mesodesmatidae). Helgol. Mar. Res. 63: 207-218.) reported that the increase in Chl a concentration in the Buenos Aires shelf region observed in winter and summer, with a main peak in spring and a secondary peak in autumn, related greatly to the dominance of M. mactroides in ripe and spawning stages. This finding suggests that availability and quality of phytoplankton may also have a direct impact on the reproductive cycle. Nonetheless, temperature is considered the main environmental factor that might influence the reproductive cycle of species, inducing gametogenesis and spawning (Gaspar and Monteiro 1998Gaspar M., Monteiro C. 1998. Reproductive cycles of the razor clam (Ensis siliqua) and the clam (Venus striatula) off Vilamoura, southern Portugal. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. UK 78: 1247-1258., 1999Gaspar M., Monteiro C. 1999. Gametogenesis and spawning in the subtidal white clam (Spisula solida), in relation to temperature. J. Mar. Biol. Ass. UK 79: 753-755., Gaspar et al. 1999Gaspar M., Ferreira R., Monteiro C. 1999. Growth and reproductive cycle of (Donax trunculus) off Faro, southern Portugal. Fish. Res. 41: 309-316.). This fact supports the idea stated by Ansel (1961)Ansel A.D. 1961. Reproduction, growth and mortality of (Venus striatula) in Kame Bay. Millport. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. UK 41: 191-215. and Seed (1976)Seed R. 1976. Ecology of marine mussels. In: Bayne B.L (ed.). Marine Mussels: their Ecology and Physiology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 13-65. that seasonal changes in SST trigger gametogenesis and, in addition, short-term temperature changes may stimulate spawning.

The development of the gonad in bivalve molluscs fits one of two models according to Lammens (1967)Lammens J. 1967. Growth and reproduction in a tidal flat population of Macoma balthica. Neth. J. Sea. Res. 3: 315-382.. In the first, a resting period is observed with the empty gonad during the months of winter, gametogenesis being initiated at the end of winter and/or the beginning of spring. Spawning takes place in the warmer months in response to seasonal changes in Chl a, SST, and phytoplankton. In the second, the energy reserves allocated for reproduction are stored during the summer and autumn and are maintained in winter, with spawning taking place between the following spring and summer. The reproductive pattern of A. tuberculata in the Mediterranean Sea is similar to that described by Hughes (1971)Hughes R.N. 1971. Reproduction of Scrobicularia plana Da Costa (Pelecypoda: Semelidae) in North Wales. Veliger 14: 77-81. for Scrobicularia plana, and both of them follow the second model, with a clear seasonality described. In the same period and at the same locality (M’diq Bay), Rharrass (2015)Rharrass A. 2015. Bioecology on the populations of the smooth clam (Callista chione) and rough cockle (Acanthocardia tuberculata) in the NorthWest of Morocco. Ph.D. thesis. Univ. Hassan II, Casablanca. 247 pp. recorded continuous spawning throughout the year in Callista chione. The differences in the onset of spawning suggest that each species has specific reproductive strategies, but it is known that the size of oocytes can also be affected by age, locality and environmental stress (Honkoop and Van der Meer 1998Honkoop P.J., Van der Meer J. 1998. Experimentally induced effects of water temperature and immersion time on reproductive output of bivalves in the Wadden Sea. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 220: 227-246., Toro et al. 2002Toro J.E., Thompson R.J., Innes D.J. 2002. Reproductive isolation and reproductive output in two sympatric mussel species (Mytilus edulis, M. trossulus) and their hybrids from Newfoundland. Mar. Biol. 141: 897-909., Maloy et al. 2003Maloy A.P., Barber B.J., Rawson P.D. 2003. Gametogenesis in a sympatric population of blue mussels, Mytilus edulis and Mytilus trossulus, from Cobscook Bay (USA). J. Shellfish Res. 22: 119-124., Meneghetti et al. 2004Meneghetti F., Moschino V., da Ros L. 2004. Gametogenic cycle and variation in oocyte size of the Tapes philippinarum from the Lagoon of Venice. Aquaculture 240: 473-488., Zvjezdana 2012Zvjezdana P.I. 2012. Reproductive cycle and gonad development of Venus verrucosa L. (Bivalvia: Veneridae) in Kaštela Bay, Adriatic Sea, Croatia. Ph.D. thesis, Univ. Split and Univ. Dubrovnik, 122 pp.). The study of the evolution of the average OD of the rough cockle (this study) and the smooth clam (Rharrass 2015Rharrass A. 2015. Bioecology on the populations of the smooth clam (Callista chione) and rough cockle (Acanthocardia tuberculata) in the NorthWest of Morocco. Ph.D. thesis. Univ. Hassan II, Casablanca. 247 pp.) confirms some factors that regulate their metabolism. The comparison of the OD of both species showed that C. chione has bigger oocytes (up to 52.7±7.8 µm) than A. tuberculata (up to 38.23±3.61µm). Levitan (2006)Levitan D.R. 2006. The relationship between egg size and fertilization success in broadcast-spawning marine invertebrates. Integr. Comp. Biol. 46: 298-311. pointed out that marine invertebrates with bigger eggs require a lower concentration of sperm cells for fertilization. Other studies have observed a potential relationship between the size of the oocyte and the success of the fertilization (Peharda et al. 2010Peharda M., Ezgeta-Balić D., Vrgoč N., et al. 2010. Bivalve community structure in the Croatian part of the Adriatic Sea – a hydraulic dredge survey. Acta. Adriat. 51: 141-157., Zvjezdana 2012Zvjezdana P.I. 2012. Reproductive cycle and gonad development of Venus verrucosa L. (Bivalvia: Veneridae) in Kaštela Bay, Adriatic Sea, Croatia. Ph.D. thesis, Univ. Split and Univ. Dubrovnik, 122 pp.). Moreover, although the sexual cycle of bivalves is very dependent on environmental conditions (extrinsic factors), it is also under internal control (intrinsic factors) via hormonal elements (Deridovich and Reunova 1993Deridovich I., Reunova O.V. 1993. Prostaglandins: Reproduction control in bivalve molluscs. Comp. Biochem. Physiol. Part A: Phisiol. 104: 23-27., Osada et al. 1998Osada M., Nakata A., Matsumoto T., et al. 1998. Pharmacological characterization of serotonin receptor in the oocyte membrane of bivalves molluscs and its formation during oogenesis. J. Exp. Zool. 281(2): 124-131., Bacca 2007Bacca H. 2007. Etude des voies metaboliques des sucres chez l’huitre creuse Crassostrea gigas. Implication dans les mortalités estivales. Ph.D. thesis, Univ. Rennes I, 256 pp.). In situ, the rough cockle and smooth clam do not feed in the same way and on the same food sources. According to the differences in shape, the length of siphon and the burying depth capacity (Zwartz and Wanink 1989Zwartz L., Wanink J. 1989. Siphon size and burying depth in deposit- and suspension-feeding benthic bivalves. Mar. Biol. 100: 227-240.) A. tuberculata may act as suspension-and deposit-feeder, while C. chione is exclusively a suspension feeder; consequently they do not extract the same nutritional value. Indeed, even if both species share the same biotope, each single gender could have its own strategies for managing its energy, either via the food supply, or via the use of its reserves.

It has been noted that the CI is a good predictor of the gametogenic cycle, even in bivalves with a gonad not easily separable from the foot, such as Donax trunculus (Gaspar and Monteiro 1999Gaspar M., Monteiro C. 1999. Gametogenesis and spawning in the subtidal white clam (Spisula solida), in relation to temperature. J. Mar. Biol. Ass. UK 79: 753-755.), Donax serra (Laudien et al. 2001Laudien J., Brey T., Arntz W. 2001. Reproduction and recruitment patterns of the surf clam Donax serra (Bivalvia, Donacidae) on two Namibian sandy beaches. S. Afr. J. Mar. Sci. 23: 53-60.) and Mesodesma donacium (Riascos et al. 2008Riascos J.M., Heilmayer O., Oliva M., et al. 2008. Infestation of the surf clam Mesodesma donacium by the spionid polychaete Polydora bioccipitalis. J. Sea. Res. 59: 217-227.). However, for the present study, the CI was not useful for describing the spawning of the rough cockle. As mentioned by Tirado et al. (2002a)Tirado C., Salas C., López I. 2002a. Reproduction of Callista chione L., 1758 (Bivalvia: Veneridae) in the littoral of Málaga (souther Spain). J. Shellfish Res. 21: 643-648., CI should not be interpreted without an accompanying histological study because this index may decrease without the release of gametes. Food supply maintained a direct relationship with the rate of gonadal development and with the total quantity of gonad generated (Delgado and Pérez-Camacho 2005Delgado M., Pérez-Camacho A. 2005. Histological study of the gonadal development of Ruditapes decussatus (L.) (Mollusca: Bivalvia) and its relationship with available food. Sci. Mar. 69: 87-97.). In general, during the period of sexual repose, it was observed that individuals showed an increase in their mean weight due to resorption of the gonad and formation of reserve tissue (Rodríguez-Rúa et al. 2003Rodríguez-Rúa A., Prado M., Romero Z., et al. 2003. The gametogenic cycle of Scrobicularia plana (da Costa, 1778) (Mullusc: Bivalve) in Guadalquivir estuary (Cádiz, SW Spain). Aquaculture 217: 157-166.), but food supply restriction can limit gonadal recovery after spawning episodes (Delgado and Pérez-Camacho 2005Delgado M., Pérez-Camacho A. 2005. Histological study of the gonadal development of Ruditapes decussatus (L.) (Mollusca: Bivalvia) and its relationship with available food. Sci. Mar. 69: 87-97.). It is interesting to note that species of the genus Cerastoderma and A. tuberculata showed their fastest shell growth rate immediately prior to gamete release, indicating their ability to gain enough energy for both growth and gametogenesis when food resources are adequate (Peharda et al. 2012Peharda M., Ezgeta-Balić D., Radman M., et al. 2012. Age, growth and population structure of Acanthocardia tuberculata (Bivalvia: Cardiidae) in the eastern Adriatic Sea. Sci. Mar. 76: 59-66.).

In the present study, the smallest matured rough cockle was an individual at 32.94 mm SL, which is in agreement with the finding of Tirado et al. (2002b)Tirado C., Rodrígues de la Rúa A.F., Bruzón M.A., et al. 2002b. La reproduccion de bivalvos y gasterópodos de interés pesquero en Andalucía. Junta de Andalucía, Consejería de Agricultura y Pesca, Huelva, 129 pp. in southern Spain where, using histological analysis, they found that all individual of A. tuberculata larger than 30 mm had differentiated gonads. In the present study even when some individuals reached their first sexual cycle at 30-35 mm, the SL50 for A. tuberculata was estimated at 42.77 mm SL.

Determination of the size at first sexual maturity and the spawning period are the basic requirements for the protection and sustainable exploitation of stocks. Data on the reproductive characteristics obtained in this study show that A. tuberculata in the westernmost Mediterranean has one spawning peak per year, which occurs during the summer months, and that female and male gonad developments are synchronous. These results give an insight into the biology of A. tuberculata. The information gathered in this study allowed preliminary management measures to be proposed for the fishery of this resource, including a closed season during the main spawning season (May-June) and the establishment of a minimum landing size (of at least 50 mm SL) for A. tuberculata from M’diq Bay.

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