• Broadcast spawners;
  • Montastraea;
  • negative density dependence;
  • sympatric speciation;
  • temporal reproductive isolation

Recent theory suggests that frequency-dependent disruptive selection in combination with assortative mating can lead to the establishment of reproductive isolation in sympatry. Here we explore how temporal variation in reproduction might simultaneously generate both disruptive selection and assortative mating, and result in sympatric speciation. The conceptual framework of the model may be applicable to biological systems with negative frequency-dependent selection, such as marine broadcast spawners or systems with pollinator limitation. We present a model that is motivated by recent findings in marine broadcast spawners and is parameterized with data from the Montastraea annularis species complex. Broadcast spawners reproduce via external fertilization and synchronous spawning is required to increase the probability of successful fertilization, but empirical evidence shows that as density increases, so does the risk of polyspermy. Polyspermy is the fusion of multiple sperm with an egg at fertilization, a process that makes the embryo unviable. Synchrony can therefore also act as a source of negative density-dependent disruptive selection. Model analysis shows that the interaction between polyspermy and spawning synchrony can lead to temporal reproductive isolation in sympatry and that, more generally, increased density promotes maintenance of genetic variation.