The evolution of polyandry (female multiple mating)
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Spermatozoa exhibit taxonomically widespread patterns of divergent morphological evolution. However, the adaptive significance of variation in sperm morphology remains unclear. In this study we examine the role of natural variation in sperm length on fertilization success in the dung beetle Onthophagus taurus. We conducted sperm competition trials between males that differed in the length of their sperm and determined the paternity of resulting offspring using amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers. We also quantified variation in the size and shape of the female’s sperm storage organ to determine whether female morphology influenced the competitiveness of different sperm morphologies. We found that fertilization success was biased toward males with relatively shorter sperm, but that selection on sperm length was dependent on female tract morphology; selection was directional for reduced sperm length across most of the spermathecal size range, but stabilizing in females with the smallest spermathecae. Our data provide empirical support for the theory that sperm competition should favor the evolution of numerous tiny sperm. Moreover, because sperm length is both heritable and genetically correlated with condition, our results are consistent with a process by which females can accrue genetic benefits for their offspring from the incitement of sperm competition and/or cryptic female choice, as proposed by the “sexy sperm” and “good sperm” models for the evolution of polyandry.
Female promiscuity often results in the ejaculates of different males competing to fertilize a female's ova. Experimental studies in insects have shown how sperm competition can be a potent selective force acting on an array of male reproductive traits, including features of the ejaculate such as sperm numbers or sperm size. However, experimental analysis of the role of sperm quality in determining paternity in insects has been neglected, despite the fact that sperm quality has been shown to influence the outcome of sperm competition in vertebrates. A recent comparative analysis found that males of polyandrous insect species show a higher proportion of live sperm in their stores, suggesting that sperm competition has shaped the quality of insect sperm. Here we test the hypothesis that sperm viability influences paternity at the within-species level. We use the cricket Teleogryllus oceanicus to conduct sperm competition trials involving pre-screened males that differ in the viability of their sperm. We find that paternity success is determined by the proportion of live sperm in a male's ejaculate. Furthermore, we were able to predict the patterns of paternity observed on the basis of the males' relative representation of viable sperm in the female's sperm storage organ. Our findings provide the first experimental evidence for the theory that sperm competition selects for higher sperm quality in insects, and indicate that between-male variation in sperm quality needs to be considered in theoretical and experimental studies of insect sperm competition.
In theoretical and experimental approaches to the study of sperm competition, it is often assumed that ejaculates always contain enough sperm of good quality and that they are successfully transferred and used for fertilization. However, this view neglects the potential effects of infertility and sperm limitation. Permanent or temporal male infertility due to male sterility, insemination failures, or failures to fertilize the ova implies that some males do not achieve sperm representation in the female reproductive tract after mating. A review of the literature suggests that rates of nonsperm representation may be high; values for the proportion of infertile matings across 30 insect species vary between 0% and 63%, with the median being 22%. I simulated P2 (the proportion of offspring fathered by the second male to copulate with a female in a double-mating trial) distributions under a mechanism of random sperm mixing when sample sizes and rates of male infertility varied. The results show that nonsperm representation can be responsible for high intraspecific variance in sperm precedence patterns and that it can generate misleading interpretations about the mechanism of sperm competition. Nonsperm representation might be a common obstacle in the studies of sperm competition and postcopulatory female choice.
Theoretical models predict how paternal effort should vary depending on confidence of paternity and on the trade-offs between present and future reproduction. In this study we examine patterns of sperm precedence in Phyllomorpha laciniata and how confidence of paternity influences the willingness of males to carry eggs. Female golden egg bugs show a flexible pattern of oviposition behavior, which results in some eggs being carried by adults (mainly males) and some being laid on plants, where mortality rates are very high. Adults are more vulnerable to predators when carrying eggs; thus, it has been suggested that males should only accept eggs if there are chances that at least some of the eggs will be their true genetic offspring. We determined the confidence of paternity for naturally occurring individuals and its variation with the time. Paternity of eggs fertilized by the last males to mate with females previously mated in the field has been determined using amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs). The exclusion probability was 98%, showing that AFLP markers are suitable for paternity assignment. Sperm mixing seems the most likely mechanism of sperm competition, because the last male to copulate with field females sires an average of 43% of the eggs laid during the next five days. More importantly, the proportion of eggs sired does not change significantly during that period. We argue that intermediate levels of paternity can select for paternal care in this system because: (1) benefits of care in terms of offspring survival are very high; (2) males have nothing to gain from decreasing their parental effort in a given reproductive event because sperm mixing makes it difficult for males to reach high paternity levels and males are left with no cues to assess paternity; (3) males cannot chose to care for their offspring exclusively because they can neither discriminate their own eggs, nor can they predict when their own eggs will be produced; and (4) males suffer no loss of further matings with other females when they carry eggs. Thus, our findings do not support the traditional view that paternal investment is expected to arise only in species where confidence of paternity is high. The results suggest that females maximize the chances that several males will accept eggs at different times by promoting a mechanism of sperm mixing that ensures that all males that have copulated with a female have some chance of fathering offspring, that this probability remains constant with time, and that males have no cues as to when their own offspring will be produced.
In natural populations of golden egg bugs (Phyllomorpha laciniata), females lay eggs on plants where they develop unattended, or on conspecifics, where they remain firmly glued until the nymphs hatch and start an independent life. Mortality rates among eggs laid on plants are higher than among eggs carried by adults. Because females cannot lay eggs on themselves, in order to improve offspring survival, they have to lay eggs on other individuals. Two hypotheses have been proposed to explain egg carrying: (1) the mating pair intraspecific brood parasitism hypothesis suggests that females dump eggs on copulating pairs, and (2) the paternal care hypothesis suggests that the system is driven mainly by males accepting eggs to improve the survival rates of their own offspring. Our data from the field show that 77% of the eggs are carried by males, because more males than females carry eggs, and because males carry a greater number of eggs. In addition, we show that mating males carry more recently laid eggs than single males. These results support the view that egg carrying is performed predominantly by males and that eggs are laid on males by their current mating partner, probably between repeated copulations. Males are likely to accept eggs, despite intermediate levels of paternity, because they cannot discriminate in favour of their own eggs, because rejected eggs will face 97% mortality rates on plants, and because they do not suffer mating costs when they carry eggs. However, females carry 23% of the eggs, but no differences in egg carrying have been found between mating and single females, suggesting that this is not the result of egg dumping while females are copulating. Egg carrying by females could reflect low levels of intraspecific parasitism, which is likely to reflect the low rate of successful attempts by egg-laying females who try to oviposit on other conspecifics rather indiscriminately, in an effort to improve the survival of their offspring.