Age-dependent insemination success of sterile Mediterranean fruit flies


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The Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) is used in many regions worldwide to manage wild populations of the Mediterranean fruit fly (‘medfly’), an important pest species. This technique relies on released sterile males outcompeting their wild counterparts in fertilizing ova of wild females. Numerous studies have investigated the ability of sterile males to secure copulations, an essential step toward overall success. Here we progress further along the mating sequence by studying reproductive barriers that may remain ahead of sterile males that manage to secure copulations in field cage experiments and whether ability to pass these barriers is influenced by a male's age, diet and size, or the size of his mate. Amongst those virgin males that succeeded in copulating, both the number of sperm stored by mates and the chances of having any sperm stored at all decreased with age. Sperm tended to be stored asymmetrically between the females' two spermathecae, and this tendency was more apparent when few sperm were stored. In accord with effects of male age on number of sperm stored, sperm of older males were stored more asymmetrically than that of young males. We found no evidence that male size, male diet or female size influenced copula duration, number of sperm stored or allocation of sperm between the female's two spermathecae. The decline in number of sperm stored as males aged was not accompanied by age-dependent changes in copula duration, indicating that copula duration and insemination success are not deterministically linked. We discuss these results in light of their relevance to SIT and the medfly mating system.