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Keywords:

  • Bateman's principle;
  • fertilization success;
  • free-spawning;
  • sexual selection;
  • sperm competition;
  • sperm limitation

Abstract

When the availability of sperm limits female reproductive success, competition for sperm, may be an important broker of sexual selection. This is because sperm limitation can increase the variance in female reproductive success, resulting in strong selection on females to compete for limited fertilization opportunities. Sperm limitation is probably common in broadcast-spawning marine invertebrates, making these excellent candidates for investigating scramble competition between broods of eggs and its consequences for female reproductive success. Here, we report our findings from a series of experiments that investigate egg competition in the sessile, broadcast-spawning polychaete Galeolaria caespitosa. We initially tested whether the order in which eggs encounter sperm affects their fertilization success at two ecologically relevant current regimes. We used a split-clutch—split-ejaculate technique to compare the fertilization success of eggs from individual females that had either first access (competition-free treatment) or second access (egg competition treatment) to a batch of sperm. We found that fertilization success depended on the order in which eggs accessed sperm; eggs that were assigned to the competition-free treatment exhibited significantly higher fertilization rates than those assigned to the egg competition treatment at both current speeds. In subsequent experiments we found that prior exposure of sperm to eggs significantly reduced both the quantity and quality of sperm available to fertilize a second clutch of eggs, resulting in reductions in fertilization success at high and low sperm concentrations. These findings suggest that female traits that increase the likelihood of sperm-egg interactions (e.g. egg size) will respond to selection imposed by egg competition.