Previous laboratory studies have demonstrated that estrogenic and antiandrogenic chemicals can alter several sexual characteristics in male poeciliid fishes. Whether similar disturbances occur under field conditions remains to be confirmed. Lake Apopka, Florida, is contaminated with numerous chemicals, some of which possess endocrine-disrupting activity. Male mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) were collected monthly from December 2000 through May 2001 from Lake Apopka and two nearby reference lakes, Orange Lake and Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. Selected sexual characteristics were compared temporally and among lakes during the collection period. Male fish from Lake Apopka had slightly shorter gonopodia and on average 32 and 47% fewer sperm cells per milligram testis, when compared with the fish collected from Orange Lake and Lake Woodruff, respectively. The testes weights increased markedly during spring, with significantly smaller testes in fish from Lake Apopka than from Orange Lake, but surprisingly, the smallest testes occurred in males obtained from the Lake Woodruff population. The highest liver weights were found in the Lake Apopka population. Whole-body concentrations of testosterone and estradiol varied among months; the peak testosterone concentration occurred in January and was significantly lower in male fish from Lake Apopka compared with Orange Lake. The intensity of male courtship behavior was highly correlated to body testosterone concentration, but no statistically significant differences in sexual behavior among the lakes were found. We conclude that sexual characteristics of relevance to male reproductive capacity are altered in the Lake Apopka mosquitofish population, and we discuss the presence of chemicals with antiandrogenic effects in Lake Apopka as a possible cause of the observed alterations.
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