THE QUICK AND THE DEAD? SPERM COMPETITION AND SEXUAL CONFLICT IN SEA

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Abstract

Our view of sperm competition is largely shaped by game-theoretic models based on external fertilizers. External fertilization is of particular interest as it is the ancestral mode of reproduction and as such, relevant to the evolution and maintenance of anisogamy (i.e., large eggs and tiny, numerous sperm). Current game-theoretic models have been invaluable in generating predictions of male responses to sperm competition in a range of internal fertilizers but these models are less relevant to marine broadcast spawners, the most common and archetypal external fertilizers. Broadcast spawners typically have incomplete fertilization due to sperm limitation and/or polyspermy (too many sperm), but the effects of incomplete (<100% fertilization rates) fertilization on game-theoretic predictions are unclear particular with regards to polyspermy. We show that incorporating the effects of sperm concentration on fertilization success changes the predictions of a classic game-theoretic model, dramatically reversing the relationship between sperm competition and the evolutionarily stable sperm release strategy. Furthermore, our results suggest that male and female broadcast spawners are likely to be in conflict at both ends of the sperm environment continuum rather than only in conditions of excess sperm as previously thought. Across the majority of the parameter space we explored, males release either too little to too much sperm for females to achieve complete fertilization. This conflict could result in a coevolutionary race that may have led to the evolution of internal fertilization in marine organisms.

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