The Effects of Tributyltin on Dogwhelks (<i>Nucella lapillus</i>) From Scottish Coastal Waters

TitleThe Effects of Tributyltin on Dogwhelks (Nucella lapillus) From Scottish Coastal Waters
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1989
AuthorsBailey, SK, Davies, IM
JournalJournal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
Date Published1989
ISBN Number0025-3154

The common dogwhelk (Nucella lapillus) is a dioecious species. However, on exposure to low concentrations (<1 ng I-1, Gibbs et al., 1987) of tributyltin (TBT) females develop certain male sexual characteristics, notably a penis and vas deferens. This phenomenon, first reported by Blaber (1970) in dogwhelks from the Plymouth area, and later termed 'imposex' (Smith, 1981), is now recognised as the most sensitive and straightforward way to identify contamination of coastal areas by TBT. The degree of imposex may be readily quantified as the relative penis size index (RPSI), which expresses the relative bulk of the penes in females and males from a given sample. It is calculated as (mean cubed female penis length/the mean cubed male penis length) x 100% (Gibbs et al., 1987). Gibbs et al. (1987) have examined the development of imposex in greater detail, and have divided the process into six stages (known as the vas deferens sequence, or VDS) based upon the degree of development of the vas deferens and penis in the female animal. This classification enables an assessment to be made of the reproductive ability of an animal. Stages 1 to 4 show a progressive development of the penis and vas deferens. At a VDS of 5, vas deferens tissue proliferates over the opening of the reproductive tract, blocking it, and subsequently causing sterility due to the inability of the animal to release egg capsules. Aborted egg capsules then gradually accumulate in the capsule gland (stage 6). The vas deferens sequence index, VDSI, is the mean VDS in a given sample of females.