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Keywords:

  • cryptic female choice;
  • external fertilization;
  • fertilization dynamics;
  • multiple mating;
  • sperm competition

Abstract

In many species, females are thought to benefit from polyandry due to the reduced risks of fertilization by genetically incompatible sperm. However, few studies that have reported such benefits have directly attributed variation in female reproductive success to the interacting effects of males and females at fertilization. In this paper, we determine whether male × female interactions influence fertilization in vitro in the free-spawning, sessile polychaete Galeolaria caespitosa. Furthermore, we determined whether polyandry results in direct fertilization benefits for females by experimentally manipulating the number of males contributing towards staged spawning events. To test for male × female interaction effects we performed an initial experiment that crossed seven males with six females (in all 42 combinations), enabling us to assess fertilization rates for each specific male–female pairing and attribute variation in fertilization success to males, females and their interaction. This initial experiment revealed a strong interaction between males and females at fertilization, confirming that certain male–female combinations were more compatible than others. A second experiment tested the hypothesis that polyandry enhances female reproductive success by exposing each female's eggs to either a single male's sperm (monandry) or the sperm from three males simultaneously (polyandry). We performed this second experiment at two ecologically relevant sperm concentrations. This latter experiment revealed a strong fertilization benefit of polyandry, independent of the effects of sperm concentration (which were also significant). We suggest that these direct fertilization gains arising from polyandry will constitute an important source of selection on females to mate multiply in nature.