An enduring hypothesis for the proximal benefits of sex is that recombination increases the genetic variation among offspring and that this genetic variation increases offspring performance. A corollary of this hypothesis is that mothers that mate multiply increase genetic variation within a clutch and gain benefits due to genetic diversity alone. Many studies have demonstrated that multiple mating can increase offspring performance, but most attribute this increase to sexual selection and the role of genetic diversity has received less attention. Here, we used a breeding design to generate populations of full-siblings, half-siblings, and unrelated individuals of the solitary ascidian Ciona intestinalis. Importantly, we preclude the potentially confounding influences of maternal effects and sexual selection. We found that individuals in populations with greater genetic diversity had greater performance (metamorphic success, postmetamorphic survival, and postmetamorphic size) than individuals in populations with lower genetic diversity. Furthermore, we show that by mating with multiple males and thereby increasing genetic variation within a single clutch of offspring, females gain indirect fitness benefits in the absence of mate-choice. Our results show that when siblings are likely to interact, genetic variation among individuals can decrease competition for resources and generate substantial fitness benefits within a single generation.
This article was published online on August 13, 2011. An error was subsequently identified. This notice is included in the online and print versions to indicate that both have been corrected September 23, 2011.