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Mol Ecol. 2006 Oct;15(11):3439-48.

Size breeds success: multiple paternity, multivariate selection and male semelparity in a small marsupial, Antechinus stuartii.

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Institute of Wildlife Research, School of Biological Sciences A08, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.


Mating in the marsupial genus Antechinus is a synchronous annual event that is characterized by monoestry in females and abrupt postmating mortality in males. Male semelparity (multiple copulations during a single breeding season per lifetime) is often assumed to occur as a consequence of the intense mating effort expended by males in the rut, but the forces selecting for this remain elusive. Here, we investigate selection in male brown antechinus, Antechinus stuartii, and test two hypotheses for the evolution of semelparity: intermale competition and sperm competition. If intermale competition drives semelparity, we predicted that males would be under strong selection for large body size. If sperm competition is important, we predicted that selection would be strongest on scrotal size, a surrogate for testes volume. Using microsatellite markers, we found that 92% of females in free-living conditions mated with multiple males, producing litters of eight that had up to four fathers. These observations confirm the potential for sperm competition. Using selection analysis, we then found paternity success in 119 males to be related most strongly to body mass and scrotal size, thus providing support for both hypotheses. Large males presumably experience increased paternity success by gaining more matings or prolonged copulations via mate guarding, while large testes may allow increased sperm investment per copulation. Increased levels of free corticosteroid hormones in males facilitate the extreme mating effort during the short period of rut, but lead to immune suppression and consequently to the phenomenon of postmating mortality.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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