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Roach, Sex, and Gender-Bending Chemicals: The Feminization of Wild Fish in English Rivers

Feminization of the male roach, Rutilus rutilus, a freshwater, group-spawning fish, is widespread in English rivers; among the causative agents are natural and synthetic steroidal estrogens and chemicals that mimic estrogens. In feminized male roach, concentrations of the egg-yolk protein vitellogenin are elevated, sex steroid hormone dynamics are altered, and gonad development is disrupted (most notably, a female reproductive duct or developing eggs [oocytes] are present in the testis). In some English rivers containing high levels of estrogens, all male roach sampled have been feminized to varying degrees. In the more severely affected males, individuals produce low-quality sperm with a reduced capability for fertilization. Laboratory studies have shown that the environmental estrogens responsible for inducing gonadal feminization in roach can also alter reproductive behavior, disrupting normal breeding dynamics (parentage) in the zebrafish, another group-spawning fish. Together these findings indicate that feminization of wild roach may result in adverse population-level effects, but this hypothesis has yet to be fully addressed.

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