Theory predicts that, in species with non-resource-based mating systems, female preference for male sexual traits might be selected to ensure higher levels of fertility. Accordingly, secondary sexual traits used by females to assess males are expected to covary with ejaculate size and/or quality transferred during copulation, and female fecundity should be directly linked to mating with more attractive males. To date, direct tests of this hypothesis have been performed on internal fertilizing species, where several factors, such as for instance sperm competition, cryptic female choice, male parasite load, may affect ejaculate characteristics and female fecundity. Here, we used as a model the mandarinfish Synchiropus splendidus a small pelagic spawner where males only provide females with ejaculates and sperm competition does not occur. Males are significantly larger than females and we experimentally demonstrated that females prefer larger males. In addition, by collecting gametes from 67 natural spawning events, we attained a measure of the number of eggs and sperm released in each spawning event and the fertilization rates. The mean number of gametes produced positively correlates with body size in both sexes. Males do not regulate sperm number according to egg number and/or female body size. Fertilization success is significantly related to the mean number of sperm released but not directly to male body size. These findings, despite not fully accomplishing theoretical expectation, suggest that larger and more fecund females may suffer sperm limitation in mating with smaller males. In addition, our results have possible implications for the aquarium fishery of this species, which targets large males.
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