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Keywords:

  • single foundress local mate competition - sex ratio variance - insemination capacity - male mortality - all-female broods - parasitoid Hymenoptera -Bethylidae - Eulophidae

Theory considering sex ratio optima under ‘strict local mate competition with offspring groups produced by a single foundress’ makes a suite of predictions, one of which is a mean female bias. Treating individual offspring as discrete units, theory further predicts sex ratios to have low variance (precise sex ratio) and to equal the reciprocal of clutch size (one male per clutch). The maternal decision may be complicated by imperfect control of sex allocation, limited insemination capacity of sons and offspring developmental mortality: each can lead to virgin daughters (with zero fitness) and consequently select for less biased sex ratios. When clutches are small and/or developmental mortality is common, appreciable proportions of virgins are expected, even when control of sex allocation is perfect and the mating capacity of males is unlimited. This suite of predictions has been only partially tested. We provide further tests by examining sex ratios and developmental mortalities within and across species of locally mating parasitoids. We find a wide range of mean developmental mortalities (6–67%), but mortality distributions are consistendy overdispersed (have greater than binomial variance) and sexually differential mortality appears to be absent. Sex ratios are female biased and have low variance, but are not perfectly precise and variance is increased by mortality within species and (equivocally) across species. Sex ratios less biased than the reciprocal of clutch size are observed; probably due to a maternal response to developmental mortality in one species, and to limited insemination capacity in others. Cross species comparisons indicate that mean proportions of mortality and virginity are positively correlated. Virginity is more prevalent than predicted among species with higher mortalities but not among lower mortality species. Predicted relationships between virginity and clutch size are supported in species with lower mortalities but only partially supported when mortality rates are higher.