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Discriminating Males and Unpredictable Females: Males Bias Sperm Allocation in Favor of Virgin Females


Jeanne A. Zeh, Department of Biology and Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557, USA.


When both sexes mate with multiple partners, theory predicts that males should adjust their investment in ejaculates in response to the risk and/or intensity of sperm competition. Here, we demonstrate that, in the harlequin beetle riding pseudoscorpion, Cordylochernes scorpioides, males use cues deposited on females by previous males to distinguish between virgin, once-mated, and multiply-mated females and adjust sperm allocation accordingly. Sperm number declined in direct proportion to the number of previous males, with virgin females receiving nearly three times more sperm than females exposed to three previous males. Given the lack of first-male sperm precedence in C. scorpioides, this pattern is not consistent with current sperm competition models and appears best explained by a significant risk of wasting ejaculates on deceitful, mated females. In C. scorpioides, males transfer sperm indirectly to females via a stalked spermatophore deposited on the substrate. Mated females often feign sexual receptivity and cooperate throughout mating, only to reject the sperm packet produced by the male. While indirect sperm transfer facilitates a high level of female deceit and control, females of many species are able to influence the number and fate of sperm transferred during copulation and are likely to conceal their sexual unreceptivity to minimize male retaliation. If males cannot accurately assess female receptivity, increased risk of sperm rejection by mated females could outweigh the risk of sperm competition and favor greater sperm allocation to virgin females.