Food availability and sex reversal in Mytella charruana, an introduced bivalve in the southeastern United States.
We studied the reproductive biology of Mytella charruana to determine the potential reproductive success of this newly introduced bivalve species from Central/South America. We analyzed gonad morphology, gametogenesis, and the sex ratios of introduced populations throughout a 12 month period. In the non-native habitat M. charruana shows the same strategy of gametogenesis that had been observed in its native environment, which is an opportunistic type of gonadal cycle with gametes produced throughout the year. Instead, the spawning period of M. charruana along the southeastern US coast is extended compared to that found in the native environment. We determined the minimum size (shell length) of sexually reproductive mussels to be 1.25 cm. Interestingly, throughout the year the population samples were typically composed of a higher proportion of females. The female to male sex ratio varied within a wide range from 1:0 to 1:3.3. Upon this discovery we tested the effects of food availability on the gametogenesis of adult animals. The sex ratio of mussels collected from different locations and maintained in the laboratory with or without food changed toward a male-bias under starvation conditions within a month. This is the first study directly showing that food availability can trigger sex reversal in an adult bivalve. According to our data this mussel species will likely continue to spread along the east coast of the US. Moreover, M. charruana may prove to be a model organism in the study of alternative sexuality in bivalves.