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Abstract

In the absence of sperm competition evolutionary theory predicts low mating rates and low ejaculate expenditure per mating, and sex allocation theory for simultaneous hermaphrodites predicts a strongly female-biased sex allocation. In the presence of sperm competition a shift towards a more male-biased sex allocation and a higher ejaculate expenditure are predicted. The free-living flatworm Macrostomum lignano has been shown to respond plastically in mating rate, testis size, and sperm transfer to manipulation of the social group size, a proxy of the strength of sperm competition. However, manipulation of social group size may manipulate not only sperm competition, but also other factors, such as food supply and metabolite concentration. In this study we therefore manipulated sperm competition per se by repeatedly exposing individuals to partners that have either mated with rivals or not, while keeping the social group size constant. Our results suggest that M. lignano does not have the ability to detect sperm competition per se, as worms experimentally exposed to the presence or absence of sperm competition did not differ in sex allocation, sperm transfer or mating behavior. A response to our manipulation would have required individual recognition, the ability to detect self-referencing tags, or tags or traces left by rivals on or in the mating partners. We first discuss the possibility that highly efficient sperm displacement may have decreased the difference between the treatment groups and then propose three alternative cues that may allow M. lignano to respond plastically to the social group size manipulation used in earlier studies: assessment of the mating rate, chemical cues, or tactile cues.