Sperm as a limiting factor in mating success in Hymenoptera parasitoids


  • Guy Boivin

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Natural Resource Sciences, Macdonald Campus of McGill University, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Québec, Canada
    • Horticultural Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Québec, Canada
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Correspondence: E-mail: guy.boivin@agr.gc.ca


The paradigm that females produce few costly eggs, whereas males produce an unlimited quantity of sperm holds true when matings are dispersed over time and males can replenish their sperm supply. In such a system, the best strategy for males is to mate with as many females as possible, as more is always better. However, in parasitoid species, mating often occurs at the emergence site and males may have to mate successively several females in a short period of time. This can lead to sperm depletion that can be temporary in synspermatogenic species whose males produce sperm throughout their adult life, or definitive in prospermatogenic species whose males emerge with their full sperm complement and do not produce more during their adult life. Both the spermatogeny index and the mating structure of a species will therefore influence the probability and intensity of sperm depletion in males. Sperm-limited males can court and mate females even in prospermatogenic species. These males still gain some inclusive fitness by preventing competitor males to fully inseminate females, therefore increasing the representation of their daughters in the following generation. Females that mate with partially or completely sperm-depleted males produce a constrained sex ratio that decreases their lifetime fitness. In species where sperm-depleted males occur, female choosiness based on sperm supply is predicted, as the cost of mating sperm-depleted males can be high. In addition, males are also expected to be choosy in prospermatogenic species as mating with sub-optimal females can be costly when sperm is limited.