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Keywords:

  • Ascidians;
  • egg size;
  • fertilization dynamics;
  • maternal effects;
  • Pyura stolonifera

The provisioning of offspring can have far-reaching consequences for later life in a wide range of organisms and generally this provisioning is thought to be under maternal influence or control. In experiments with a broadcast-spawning ascidian, we found that the size of offspring was determined by egg size and the abundance of sperm present during fertilization. Larger eggs were fertilized at low sperm concentrations, whilst smaller eggs were successfully fertilized at high sperm concentrations. These differences in fertilized egg size resulted in differences in the development rate, hatching success and mean size of the subsequent larvae. Our results suggest that, in contrast to females that reproduce by other mating systems, free-spawning mothers lack some control over the provisioning of offspring. Furthermore, because males can alter the sperm environment, they can exert paternal (non-genetic) control over key offspring characteristics.