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Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Jun 7;267(1448):1107-13.

Sperm precedence in a novel context: mating in a sessile marine invertebrate with dispersing sperm.

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  • 1Marine Biological Association of the UK, Plymouth, Devon. jbis@mba.ac.uk


The compound ascidian Diplosoma listerianum releases aquatic sperm which are dispersed passively to potential mates as individual gametes prior to storage of sperm, internal fertilization and brooding of embryos. The storage of exogenous sperm enables D. listerianum to produce a lengthy series of progeny following a brief period of mating. Molecular paternity analysis following sequential mating of colonies in laboratory culture revealed a consistent pattern with a clear initial bias in paternity towards the first of two acting males. The sites of sperm storage and fertilization and the morphology of the ovary in D. listerianum suggest that this bias reflects first-in-first-out use of individual stored gametes. The proportion of second-male paternity subsequently increased with time within the progeny arrays. This may have reflected the ageing or passive loss of first-male sperm. It is also possible that the modular nature of the organism contributed to this temporal trend: any recently budded colony modules maturing in the interval between matings would have been available exclusively to second-male sperm as virgin zooids. Two sets of mating trials were run. In the first, the collection of progeny suffered an interruption of 13 days and each male gained a larger proportion of recorded paternity within the progeny analysed when mating first rather than when mating second. In one mating combination, the first male obtained almost 100% of recorded paternity. In the second set of trials, with different clonal combinations, the complete sequence of progeny was collected and the estimated overall proportion of second-male paternity (P2) was consistently > 0.5. Taken as a whole, the results suggest that the overall P2-value can vary widely within the population studied. Proposed mechanisms of mating-order effects in species with copulatory mating include several which can have no counterpart in indirect aquatic mating since they involve the active removal, sealing off, volumetric displacement or incapacitation of first-male ejaculates. It is nevertheless clear that mating-order effects can be pronounced during the type of non-copulatory mating examined here, which is widespread in marine invertebrates.

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