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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Jun 7;272(1568):1139-44.

Multiple sperm storage organs facilitate female control of paternity.

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Integrative Behaviour and Neuroscience Group, Department of Life Sciences, University of Toronto at Scarborough, Ontario, Canada.


It has been proposed that multiple sperm storage organs (spermathecae) could allow polyandrous females to control paternity. There is little conclusive evidence for this since insemination of individual spermathecae is generally not experimentally manipulable. Here, we examined sperm use patterns in the Australian redback spider (Latrodectus hasselti), which has paired, independent spermathecae. We assessed paternity when two rivals were forced to inseminate a single storage organ or opposite storage organs. When males inseminated a single spermatheca, mean paternity of the female's first mate was 79.8% (median 89.4%), and 38% of first mates achieved 100% paternity. In contrast, when males inseminated opposite organs, the mean paternity of the first mate was 49.3% (median 49.9%), only 10% of males achieved complete precedence, and paternity was normally distributed, suggesting sperm mixing. Males responded to this difference by avoiding previously inseminated female reproductive tracts. Complete sperm precedence can only be achieved if females permit males to copulate with both reproductive tracts. Females often cannibalize smaller males during their first copulation, thus limiting their paternity to 50%. These data show that multiple sperm storage organs can increase female control of paternity.

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