Multiple mating, sperm competition and meiotic drive


*Author for correspondence.


Most discussions of ‘sperm competition’ have ignored the potential for competition among the different sperm genotypes present in the ejaculate of a single male. Rivalry within ejaculates may limit cooperation among the members of an ejaculate when they compete with sperm produced by other males. A gene that gains an advantage in competition within an ejaculate (a segregation distorter) may increase in frequency even if it is associated with significant costs to organismal fitness. Therefore, selection will favor genes expressed in males that suppress competition within ejaculates. This may explain why sperm function is largely controlled by the diploid genotype of the male progenitor, rather than by the genotypes of individual haploid sperm. Females who mate with multiple males reduce the relative advantage of a segregation distorter whenever the distorter impairs the competitive effectiveness of the ejaculates in which it occurs. If the distorter is associated with costs to organismal fitness, selection will favor female mating behavior that reduces the distorter's equilibrium frequency. Competition within ejaculates may thus be one reason why females choose to mate with multiple males.