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Transgenerational effects of maternal sexual interactions in seed beetles

Transgenerational effects of maternal sexual interactions in seed beetles
Zajitschek, S. R. K., Dowling, D. K., Head, M. L., Rodriguez-Exposito, E. & Garcia-Gonzalez, F.
Heredity, in press

Mating often bears large costs to females, especially in species with high levels of sexual conflict over mating rates. Given the direct costs to females associated with multiple mating, which include reductions in lifespan and lifetime reproductive success, past research focused on identifying potential indirect benefits (through increases in offspring fitness) that females may accrue. Far less attention has, however, been devoted to understanding how costs of sexual interactions to females may extend across generations. Hence, little is known about the transgenerational implications of variation in mating rates, or the net consequences of maternal sexual activities across generations. Using the seed beetle, Callosobruchus maculatus, a model system for the study of sexual conflict, we investigate the effects of mating with multiple males versus a single male, and tease apart effects due to sexual harassment and those due to mating per se, over three generations. A multigenerational analysis indicated that females that were exposed to ongoing sexual harassment and who also were permitted to mate with multiple males showed no difference in net fitness compared to females that mated just once without ongoing harassment. Intriguingly, however, females that were continually harassed, but permitted to mate just once, suffered a severe decline in net fitness compared to females that were singly (not harassed) or multiply mated (harassed, but potentially gaining benefits via mating with multiple males). Overall, the enhanced fitness in multiply mated compared to harassed females may indicate that multiple mating confers transgenerational benefits. These benefits may counteract, but do not exceed (i.e., we found no difference between singly and multiply mated females), the large transgenerational costs of harassment. Our study highlights the importance of examining transgenerational effects from an inclusive (looking at both indirect benefits but also costs) perspective, and the need to investigate transgenerational effects across several generations if we are to fully understand the consequences of sexual interactions, sexual conflict evolution, and the interplay of sexual conflict and multi-generational costs and benefits.