Author(s): Andrew J Lawrence, Jane M Soame
Environmental cues control or synchronize the reproductive cycle of many marine invertebrates. Of these environmental cues, photoperiod and temperature have been shown to moderate reproduction either individually or in combination. In addition, they may act directly or, in the case of photoperiod, set circannual clock mechanisms. These environmental cues may affect a number of reproductive parameters, including sex determination, gametogenesis and spawning. Gonadotrophic and spawning hormones appear to act as the transducers between the environment and the gamete, and limited evidence indicates that temperature and photoperiod can alter levels of these. Such processes occur in a range of estuarine invertebrates that constitute important components of the diets of overwintering birds. Global warming is likely to uncouple and alter the phase relationship between temperature and photoperiod and this is likely to have significant consequences for animals that develop gametes during the winter and spawn in the spring in temperate northern latitudes. Species that cue reproduction to photoperiod are likely to be particularly vulnerable. Although this is unlikely to lead to extinctions, it may cause local extirpations. However, this will depend on speed of adaptation to changing climate in relation to speed of climate change and the degree of mixing between populations across the range of the species. More likely will be significant impacts on fecundity, spawning success and recruitment, and this may have significant implications for overwintering birds of national and international importance, and, ultimately, on the conservation status of estuaries such as the Humber in the UK.