Asymmetric conspecific sperm precedence in relation to spawning times in the Montastraea annularis species complex (Cnidaria: Scleractinia)


Correspondence and present address: N. D. Fogarty, Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center, 8000 North Ocean Drive, Dania Beach, FL, 33004-3078, USA.

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In broadcast spawners, prezygotic reproductive isolation depends on differences in the spatial and temporal patterns of gamete release and gametic incompatibility. Typically, gametic incompatibility is measured in no-choice crosses, but conspecific sperm precedence (CSP) can prevent hybridization in gametes that are compatible in the absence of sperm competition. Broadcast spawning corals in the Montastraea annularis species complex spawn annually on the same few evenings. Montastraea franksi spawns an average of 110 min before M. annularis, with a minimum gap of approximately 40 min. Gametes are compatible in no-choice heterospecific assays, but it is unknown whether eggs exhibit choice when in competition. Hybridization depends on either M. franksi eggs remaining unfertilized and in proximity to M. annularis when the latter species spawns or M. franksi sperm remaining in sufficient viable concentrations when M. annularis spawns. We found that the eggs of the early spawning M. franksi demonstrate strong CSP, whereas CSP appears to be lacking for M. annularis eggs. This study provides evidence of diverging gamete affinities between these recently separated species and suggests for the first time that selection may favour CSP in earlier spawning species when conspecific sperm is diluted and aged and is otherwise at a numeric and viability disadvantage with heterospecific sperm.