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The influence of male ejaculate quantity on female fitness: a meta-analysis


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Although the primary function of mating is gamete transfer, male ejaculates contain numerous other substances that are produced by accessory glands and transferred to females during mating. Studies with several model organisms have shown that these substances can exert diverse behavioural and physiological effects on females, including altered longevity and reproductive output, yet a comprehensive synthesis across taxa is lacking. Here we use a meta-analytic approach to synthesize quantitatively extensive experimental work examining how male ejaculate quantity affects different components of female fitness. We summarize effect sizes for female fecundity (partial and lifetime) and longevity from 84 studies conducted on 70 arthropod species that yielded a total of 130 comparisons of female fecundity and 61 comparisons of female longevity. In response to greater amounts of ejaculate, arthropod females demonstrate enhanced fecundity (both partial and lifetime) but reduced longevity, particularly for Diptera and Lepidoptera. Across taxa, multiply mated females show particularly large fecundity increases compared to singly mated females, indicating that single matings do not maximize female fitness. This fecundity increase is balanced by a slight negative effect on lifespan, with females that received more ejaculate through polyandrous matings showing greater reductions in lifespan compared with females that have mated repeatedly with the same male. We found no significant effect size differences for either female fecundity or longevity between taxa that transfer sperm packaged into spermatophores compared to taxa that transfer ejaculates containing free sperm. Furthermore, females that received relatively larger or more spermatophores demonstrated greater lifetime fecundity, indicating that these seminal nuptial gifts provide females with a net fitness benefit. These results contribute to our understanding of the evolutionary origin and maintenance of non-sperm ejaculate components, and provide insight into female mate choice and optimal mating patterns.