Sperm in hot water: Direct and indirect thermal challenges interact to impact on brown trout sperm quality

Miriam Fenkes, John L. Fitzpatrick, Karlina Ozolina, Holly A. Shiels, Robert L. Nudds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate change alters the thermal habitat of aquatic species on a global scale, generating novel environmental challenges during all life stages, including reproduction. Changes in water temperature profoundly influence the performance of ectothermic aquatic organisms. This is an especially crucial issue for migratory fish, because they traverse multiple environments in order to reproduce. In externally fertilizing migratory fish, gametes are affected by water temperature indirectly, within the reproductive organ in which they are produced during migration, as well as directly, upon release into the surrounding medium at the spawning grounds. Both direct (after release) and indirect (during production) thermal impacts on gamete quality have been investigated, but never in conjunction. Here, we assessed the cumulative influence of temperature on brown trout, Salmo trutta, sperm quality during sperm production (male acclimation temperature) as well as upon release (sperm activation water temperature) on two consecutive dates during the brown trout spawning season. Early in the season, warm acclimation of males reduced their fertilization probability (lower sperm velocity) when compared with cold-acclimated males, especially when the activation water temperature was also increased beyond the thermal optimum (resulting in a lower proportion of motile sperm with lower velocity). Later in the season, sperm quality was unaffected by acclimation temperature and thermal sensitivity of sperm was reduced. These results give novel insights into the complex impacts of climate change on fish sperm, with implications for the reproduction and management of hatchery and wild trout populations in future climate scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2513-2520
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number14
Early online date28 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Climate change
  • Computer-assisted sperm analysis
  • Motility
  • Reproduction
  • Salmonid
  • Temperature

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Sustainable Futures


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