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Am Nat. 2004 Sep;164(3):298-309. Epub 2004 Jul 23.

Density-dependent sexual selection in external fertilizers: variances in male and female fertilization success along the continuum from sperm limitation to sexual conflict in the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus franciscanus.

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Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306, USA.


Sperm competition and female choice are fundamentally driven by gender differences in investment per offspring and are often manifested as differences in variance in reproductive success: males compete and have high variance; most females are mated and have low variance. In marine organisms that broadcast spawn, however, females may encounter either sperm limitation or sperm competition. I measured the fertilization success of male and female Strongylocentrotus franciscanus over a range of population densities using microsatellite markers. Female fertilization success first increased and then decreased with mate density, limited at low density by sperm limitation and at high density by polyspermy. Mate density affected variance in fertilization success in both males and females. In males, the variance in fertilization success increased with mate density. In females, the pattern was more complex. The variance in female success increased similarly to males with increased mate density but then decreased to low levels at intermediate densities, where almost all eggs were fertilized. As density increased further, the female variances again increased as polyspermy lowered average fertilization success. Male and female variances differed only at intermediate densities. At low densities, both sexes may be under selection to increase fertilization success; at intermediate densities, males may compete; and at high densities, both sexes may be under selection to increase success by increasing (males) or decreasing (females) likelihood of fertilization during sexual conflict. Only within a narrow range of densities do patterns of sexual selection mirror those typically noted in internally fertilizing taxa.

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