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High multiple paternity and low last-male sperm precedence in a hermaphroditic planarian flatworm: consequences for reciprocity patterns


Professor Dr Nico Michiels. Fax: + 44–251–83 24668; E-mail:


It is difficult to predict a priori how mating success translates into fertilization success in simultaneous hermaphrodites with internal fertilization. Whereas insemination decisions will be determined by male interests, fertilization will depend on female interests, possibly leading to discrepancies between insemination and fertilization patterns. The planarian flatworm Schmidtea polychroa, a simultaneous hermaphrodite in which mating partners trade sperm was studied. Sperm can be stored for months yet individuals mate frequently. Using microsatellites, maternity and paternity data were obtained from 748 offspring produced in six groups of 10 individuals during four weeks. Adults produced young from four mates on average. Reciprocal fertilization between two mates was found in only 41 out of 110 registered mate combinations, which is clearly less than what is predicted from insemination patterns. Multiple paternity was high: > 80% of all cocoons had two to five fathers for only three to five offspring per cocoon. Because animals were collected from a natural population, 28% of all hatchlings were sired by unknown sperm donors in the field, despite a 10-day period of acclimatization and within-group mating. This percentage decreased only moderately throughout the experiment, showing that sperm can be stored and used for at least a month, despite frequent mating and sperm digestion. The immediate paternity a sperm donor could expect to obtain was only about 25%. Male reproductive success increased linearly with the number of female partners, providing support for Bateman's principle in hermaphrodites. Our results suggest that hermaphrodites do not trade fertilizations when trading sperm during insemination, lending support to the view that such conditional sperm exchange is driven by exchange of resources.