For free-spawning marine invertebrates, fertilization processes control the genetic diversity of offspring. Each egg can potentially be fertilized by a sperm from a different male, and hence genetic diversity within a brood varies with levels of multiple paternity. Yet, few studies have characterized the frequency of multiple paternity in natural spawns. We analysed patterns of multiple paternity in two populations of the colonial ascidian Botryllus schlosseri using microsatellites. Because previous studies have shown that at moderate to high population densities, competition among male-phase B. schlosseri colonies results in the nearest male dominating the paternity of a brood, we specifically tested the effect of population density on patterns of paternity. Paternity was estimated using three multilocus indices: minimum number of fathers, counts of sperm haplotypes, and effective paternity (KE). Multiple paternity was evident in more than 92% of the broods analysed, but highly variable, with a few broods displaying unequal contributions of different males. We found no effect of population density on multiple paternity, suggesting that other factors may control paternity levels. Indirect benefits from increasing the genetic diversity of broods are a possible explanation for the high level of multiple paternity in this species.
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