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Concept: Dog whelk


Dispersal has received growing attention in marine ecology, particularly since evidence obtained with up-to-date techniques challenged the traditional view. The dogwhelk Nucella lapillus L., a sedentary gastropod with direct development, is a good example: dispersal was traditionally assumed to be limited until studies with microsatellites disputed this idea. To shed some light on this controversy, the genetic structure of dogwhelk populations in northwest Spain was investigated with highly polymorphic AFLP markers giving special attention to the influence of hydrodynamic stress. In agreement with the expectations for a poor disperser, our results show a significant genetic structure at regional (<200 km) and areal scales (<15 km). However, the spatial genetic structure varied with wave-exposure in the present case study: IBD was evident under sheltered conditions but absent from the exposed area where genetic differentiation was stronger. Our results provide evidence that differences in wave-exposure can exert a detectable influence on the genetic structure of coastal organisms, even in species without a planktonic larva.

Concepts: DNA, Biology, Population, Mollusca, Dog whelk, Amplified fragment length polymorphism, Nucella, Gastropod shell


Anthropogenic endocrine disruptors now contaminate all environments globally, with concomitant deleterious effects across diverse taxa. While most studies on endocrine disruption (ED) have focused on vertebrates, the superimposition of male sexual characteristics in the female dogwhelk, Nucella lapillus (imposex), caused by organotins, provides one of the most clearcut ecological examples of anthropogenically induced ED in aquatic ecosystems. To identify the underpinning mechanisms of imposex for this ‘nonmodel’ species, we combined Roche 454 pyrosequencing with custom oligoarray fabrication inexpensively to both generate gene models and identify those responding to chronic tributyltin (TBT) treatment. The results supported the involvement of steroid, neuroendocrine peptide hormone dysfunction and retinoid mechanisms, but suggested additionally the involvement of putative peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) pathways. Application of rosiglitazone, a well-known vertebrate PPARγ ligand, to dogwhelks induced imposex in the absence of TBT. Thus, while TBT-induced imposex is linked to the induction of many genes and has a complex phenotype, it is likely also to be driven by PPAR-responsive pathways, hitherto not described in invertebrates. Our findings provide further evidence for a common signalling pathway between invertebrate and vertebrate species that has previously been overlooked in the study of endocrine disruption.

Concepts: Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor, Species, Hormone, Endocrinology, Receptor, Vertebrate, Invertebrate, Dog whelk


Recent studies have shown that predator chemical cues can limit prey demographic rates such as recruitment. For instance, barnacle pelagic larvae reduce settlement where predatory dogwhelk cues are detected, thereby limiting benthic recruitment. However, adult barnacles attract conspecific larvae through chemical and visual cues, aiding larvae to find suitable habitat for development. Thus, we tested the hypothesis that the presence of adult barnacles (Semibalanus balanoides) can neutralize dogwhelk (Nucella lapillus) nonconsumptive effects on barnacle recruitment. We did a field experiment in Atlantic Canada during the 2012 and 2013 barnacle recruitment seasons (May-June). We manipulated the presence of dogwhelks (without allowing them to physically contact barnacles) and adult barnacles in cages established in rocky intertidal habitats. At the end of both recruitment seasons, we measured barnacle recruit density on tiles kept inside the cages. Without adult barnacles, the nearby presence of dogwhelks limited barnacle recruitment by 51%. However, the presence of adult barnacles increased barnacle recruitment by 44% and neutralized dogwhelk nonconsumptive effects on barnacle recruitment, as recruit density was unaffected by dogwhelk presence. For species from several invertebrate phyla, benthic adult organisms attract conspecific pelagic larvae. Thus, adult prey might commonly constitute a key factor preventing negative predator nonconsumptive effects on prey recruitment.

Concepts: Predation, Crustacean, Dog whelk, Intertidal zone, Barnacle, Littoral zone, Sessilia, Barnacles


Two cDNAs of RXR were isolated, for the first time, from the ivory shell, Babylonia japonica, and the transcriptional activities were tested in vitro to compare with other gastropod (Thais clavigera and Nucella lapillus) RXR isoforms. The transcriptional activities of all of these RXR isoforms were significantly induced by mammalian RXR agonist, 9-cis retinoic acid (9cRA). The transcriptional activity of T. clavigera RXR-1 was also examined by using 9cRA and 16 organotin compounds, and significant ligand-dependent transactivations were observed by 9cRA and 5 organotins (tributyltin (TBT), tetrabutyltin (TeBT), tripropyltin (TPrT), tricyclohexyltin (TcHT) and triphenyltin (TPhT)). These 5 organotins also induced significant transcriptional activities in N. lapillus and B. japonica RXR isoforms. These 4 organotins, except for TeBT, have been reported to promote the development of imposex after a month of a single injection each, using female T. clavigera. To investigate the function of gastropod RXR isoforms, the effects of mammalian specific pan-agonist, PA024, and pan-antagonist, HX531, were examined, and significant induction of transcriptional activity by PA024 was demonstrated in these gastropod RXR isoforms. The additions of HX531 significantly suppressed the transcriptional activities of these gastropod RXR isoforms by 9cRA and 5 organotins. Using the mammalian two retinoic acid response elements, the transcriptional activities by 2 agonists, 9cRA and PA024, were different among the RXR isoforms of each gastropod species. With retinoid X response element (RXRE), transcriptional activities of TcRXR-1, BjRXR-1, and NlRXRa were significantly higher than those of TcRXR-2, BjRXR-2, and NlRXRb. Transcriptional activities of TcRXR-2, BjRXR-2, and NlRXRb, however, were significantly higher than those of TcRXR-1, BjRXR-1, and NlRXRa with thyroid hormone response element, TREpal. Thus, induction of imposex in prosobranch gastropods is strongly suggested to be triggered by 9cRA and certain organotins, such as TBT and TPhT through the activation of RXRs. These gastropod RXRs might control the different gene transcription by forming homo- or heterodimer complex with their own isoforms. These findings will contribute to our understanding of the fundamentals of the endocrine system in molluscs, particularly on RXR signaling pathway.

Concepts: Protein, Gene expression, Transcription, Hormone, Transcription factor, Dog whelk, Retinoic acid receptor, Response element


Imposex is a disorder caused by organotins, mainly tributyltin, which results in the appearance of male sexual characteristics in females of gastropod mollusks. The main objective of this work was to make a critical analysis of the relationship between imposex and butyltin body burdens in Nucella lapillus and Nassarius reticulatus. Specifically, this study evaluates possible additive effects among butyltins, proposes scales of effects based on robust statistical criteria as alternatives to existing ones and defines the body burdens of TBT in N. lapillus and N. reticulatus corresponding to the assessment classes (ACs) of the Vas Deferens Sequence Index (VDSI) established by OSPAR. Data of organotin body burdens and biological effects was retrieved from the ICES Dataset and from scientific literature. All responses, except the percentage of females displaying Imposex (IMPF) in Nucella lapillus, showed a sigmoidal profile regarding to the body burden of mono- (MBT), di- (DBT) and tributyltin and sum of butyltins (SumBTs). TBT and the SumBTs were better indicators of the VDSI or Relative Penis Size Index/Relative Penis Length Index (RPSI/RPLI) responses than MBT or DBT in most cases. From a statistical point of view, RPSI/RPLI and VDSI were better indicators of contamination by TBT than IMPF, although both RPSI and RPLI showed lower sensitivity than VDSI. The model used for describing the joint effect of butyltins provided a statistically significant fitting to the data assuming a null effect for both MBT and DBT for N. lapillus, and a lower toxic contribution of MBT and DBT with respect to TBT for N. reticulatus. RPSI or RPLI values, equivalent to the ACs for VDSI, were proposed as alternative criteria when measuring moderate to high levels of imposex. TBT concentrations in N. reticulatus and N. lapillus tissues, corresponding to the ACs were calculated and provided valuable information for cross-species comparisons.

Concepts: Statistics, Statistical significance, Erectile dysfunction, Dog whelk, Human penis size, Vas deferens, Micropenis, Penis enlargement


Cues signaling predation risk can strongly influence prey phenotypes both within and between generations. Parental and embryonic effects have been shown to operate independently in response to predation risk, but how they interact to shape offspring life history traits remains largely unknown. Here, we conducted experiments to examine the synergistic impacts of parental and embryonic experiences with predation risk on offspring size at emergence in the snail, Nucella lapillus, which is an ecologically important intermediate consumer on rocky intertidal shores. We found that when embryos were exposed to predation risk, the offspring of risk-experienced parents emerged larger than those of parents that had no risk experience. This response was not the result of increased development time, greater resource availability, or fewer emerging offspring, but may have occurred because both parental and embryonic experiences with risk increased growth efficiency, perhaps by reducing embryonic respiration rates under risk. Our results highlight the potential for organisms to be influenced by a complex history of environmental signals with important consequences for individual fitness and predator-prey interactions. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Predation, Ecology, Parent, Lotka–Volterra equation, Emergence, All rights reserved, Dog whelk, Copyright


IMO’s Anti-Fouling Systems convention banned the use of organotin-based antifouling systems in 2008 as the ultimate effort to stop tributyltin (TBT) inputs into the marine environment. One of the hazardous effects of TBT is imposex (the superimposition of male sexual characters onto gastropod females), a phenomenon that may cause female sterility and the gastropod populations decline. Despite previous European Union legislation had already been shown effective in reducing the imposex levels along the Portuguese coast, this study intends to confirm these decreasing trends after 2008 and describe the global evolution in the last 15 years. Imposex levels were assessed in two bioindicators - the dog-whelk Nucella lapillus and the netted-whelk Nassarius reticulatus (Gastropoda, Prosobranchia) - in 2011 and 2014, and the results were compared with previous years. Both species showed progressive decreasing trends in imposex levels over the last 15 years; median values of the vas deferens sequence index (VDSI) fell from 3.96 to 0.78 in N. lapillus and from 3.39 to 0.29 in N. reticulatus. The temporal/spatial evolution of imposex suggests an apparent shift of TBT hotspots, being now restricted to fishing ports and marinas in detriment of large commercial harbours where TBT levels fell rapidly. Butyltins were measured in the whole tissues of N. lapillus females collected in 2014: monobutyltin (MBT) varied from < DL (detection limit: 1 ng Sn/g) to 13 ng Sn/g dw, dibutyltin (DBT) from 2.2 to 27 ng Sn/g dw and TBT from 1.5 to 55 ng Sn/g dw. Although TBT body burden has declined over time, the butyltin degradation index ([MBT]+[DBT])/[TBT] exhibited values < 1 in c. a. 90% of the sites assessed, suggesting that recent TBT inputs are still widespread in the Portuguese coast eventually due to illegal use of TBT antifouling systems and TBT desorption from sediments.

Concepts: Male, Ecology, Portugal, Sex, Dog whelk, Gastropoda, Vas deferens, Imposex


The International workshop on Integrated Assessment of CONtaminants impacts on the North sea (ICON) provided a framework to validate the application of chemical and biological assessment thresholds (BACs and EACs) in the Seine Bay in France. Bioassays (oyster larval anomalies, Corophium arenarium toxicity assay and DR Calux) for sediment and biomarkers: ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD) activity, acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity, lysosomal membrane stability (LMS), DNA strand breaks using the Comet assay, DNA adducts, micronucleus (MN), PAH metabolites, imposex, intersex and fish external pathologies were analysed in four marine sentinel species (Platichthys flesus, Limanda limanda, Mytilus sp. and Nucella lapilus). Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals were analysed in biota and sediment. Results for sediment and four species in 2008-2009 made it possible to quantify the impact of contaminants using thresholds (Environmental Assessment Criteria/EAC2008: 70% and EAC2009: 60%) and effects (EAC2008: 50% and EAC2009: 40%) in the Seine estuary. The Seine estuary is ranked among Europe’s most highly polluted sites.

Concepts: DNA, Biology, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, Dog whelk, Aromaticity, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Biphenyl, Pleuronectidae


Imposex is decreasing worldwide after the total ban on tributyltin (TBT) from antifouling paints. In order to assess improvement in the NE Atlantic, the OSPAR Convention designed an Ecological Quality Objective (EcoQO) based on the VDSI (vas deferens sequence index, an agreed measure of imposex) in the rock snail Nucella lapillus; wherever this is not available, the mud snail Nassarius reticulatus was proposed as a proxy. We determined VDSI in Galician populations of rock (n≥34) and mud (n≥18) snails at regular intervals from pre-ban times until 2009 and 2011, respectively. While imposex in the former started decreasing in 2006 and by 2009 the EcoQO had been met in the area, VDSI in the latter was not significantly reduced until 2011 and values contradict such an achievement. This suggests that the OSPAR imposex bi-species scheme may not be of direct application in the current post-ban scenario.

Concepts: Ecology, Spain, Dog whelk, Snail, Galicia, Vas deferens, Imposex, Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic


Triphenyltin (TPT) was used until recently as a biocide in antifouling systems and nowadays is still applied as an agriculture pesticide in some countries. This compound is known to cause imposex (the imposition of male characters in females of gastropod molluscs) in a very limited number of species, when compared with tributyltin (TBT), the universally recognized imposex-causing agent. In this study, we tested if TPT could induce imposex in females of the dog-whelk Nucella lapillus. Experimental groups of 40 females were injected with a volume of 2μL/g of soft tissue wet weight (ww) of one of the following treatments, using DMSO as a solvent carrier: DMSO (solvent control); 1μg/g ww of TBT (positive control); 0.2, 1 and 5μg/g ww of TPT and a non-injected group (negative control). Concentrations were confirmed in the organism tissues by means of chemical analyses of a pool of 10 specimens at T0 and then after the imposex analysis at T56days. After 8-week trial, results pointed out statistically significant differences between treatments, with both TPT and TBT positively inducing imposex. However, imposex development in TPT-injected females differed from that of TBT, since females that developed imposex presented an aphallic condition (no penis development) while the TBT-treated females developed standard imposex (with penis formation). These results suggest that TPT and TBT act differently in the sequential process of female masculinization, casting new insights about the hypothetical pathways underlying imposex development.

Concepts: Scientific control, Scientific method, Male, Statistical significance, Experiment, Dog whelk, Induced demand, Imposex