• Open Access

Sexual selection maintains whole-body chiral dimorphism in snails


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M. Schilthuizen, National Museum of Natural History ‘Naturalis’, PO Box 9517, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands.
Tel.: +31 71 5687769; fax: +31 71 5687666; e-mail: schilthuizen@naturalis.nl


Although the vast majority of higher animals are fixed for one chiral morph or another, the cause for this directionality is known in only a few cases. In snails, for example, rare individuals of the opposite coil are unable to mate with individuals of normal coil, so directionality is maintained by frequency-dependent selection. The snail subgenus Amphidromus presents an unexplained exception, because dextral (D) and sinistral (S) individuals occur sympatrically in roughly equal proportions (so-called ‘antisymmetry’) in most species. Here we show that in Amphidromus there is sexual selection for dimorphism, rather than selection for monomorphism. We found that matings between D and S individuals occur more frequently than expected by chance. Anatomical investigations showed that the chirality of the spermatophore and the female reproductive tract probably allow a greater fecundity in such inter-chiral matings. Computer simulation confirms that under these circumstances, sustained dimorphism is the expected outcome.