The evolution of polyandry (female multiple mating)
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In many species, females exposed to increased sexual activity experience reductions in longevity. Here, in Drosophila melanogaster, we report an additional effect on females brought about by sexual interactions; an effect that spans generations. We subjected females to a sexual treatment consisting of different levels of sexual activity, and then investigated patterns of mortality in their offspring. We found reduced probabilities of survival, increases in the rate-of-senescence, and a pattern of reduced mean longevities, for offspring produced by mothers that experienced higher levels of sexual interaction. We contend that these effects constitute trans-generational costs of sexual conflict – the existence or implications of which have rarely been considered previously. Our results indicate that ongoing exposure by mothers to male pre-copulatory interactions is itself sufficient to drive trans-generational effects on offspring mortality. Thus, we show that increases in maternal sexual activity can produce trans-generational effects that permeate through to latter life-stages in the offspring. This helps to elucidate the complex interplay between sex and ageing, and provides new insights into the dynamics of adaptation under sexual selection.
In numerous species, egg chemoattractants play a critical role in guiding sperm towards unfertilized eggs (sperm chemotaxis). Until now the known functions of sperm chemotaxis include increasing the effective target size of eggs, thereby promoting sperm-egg encounters, and facilitating species recognition. Here we report that in the broadcast spawning mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis egg chemoattractants may play an unforeseen role in sexual selection by enabling sperm to effectively ‘choose’ between the eggs of different conspecific females. In an initial experiment we confirmed that sperm chemotaxis occurs in M. galloprovincialis by showing that sperm are attracted towards unfertilized eggs when given the choice of eggs or no eggs in a dichotomous chamber. We then conducted two cross-classified mating experiments, each comprising the same individual males and females crossed in identical male x female combinations but under experimental conditions that offered sperm ‘no-choice’ (each fertilization trial took place in a petri dish and involved a single male and female) or a ‘choice’ of a female’s eggs (sperm were placed in the centre of a dichotomous choice chamber and allowed to choose eggs from different females). We show that male-by-female interactions characterized fertilization rates in both experiments, and that there was remarkable consistency between patterns of sperm migration in the egg choice experiment and fertilization rates in the no-choice experiment. These results reveal that sperm differentially select eggs on the basis of chemical cues, thus exposing the potential for egg chemoattractants to mediate mate choice for genetically compatible partners. Given the prevalence of sperm chemotaxis across diverse taxa, our findings may have broad implications for sexual selection in other mating systems.