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Am Nat. 2001 Jun;157(6):626-36. doi: 10.1086/320619.

The role of jelly coats in sperm-egg encounters, fertilization success, and selection on egg size in broadcast spawners.

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Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306-1100, USA.


Sperm limitation may be an important selective force influencing gamete traits such as egg size. The relatively inexpensive extracellular structures surrounding many marine invertebrate eggs might serve to enhance collision rates without the added cost of increasing the egg cell. However, despite decades of research, the effects of extracellular structures on fertilization have not been conclusively documented. Here, using the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus, we remove jelly coats from eggs, and we quantify sperm collisions to eggs with jelly coats, eggs without jelly coats, and inert plastic beads. We also quantify fertilization success in both egg treatment groups. We find that sperm-egg collision rates increase as a function of sperm concentration and target size and that sperm are not chemotactically attracted to eggs nor to jelly coats in this species. In fertilization assays, the presence of the jelly coat is correlated with a significant but smaller-than-expected improvement in fertilization success. A pair of optimality models predict that, despite the large difference in the energetic value of egg contents and jelly material, the presence of the jelly coat does not diminish selection for larger egg cell size when sperm are limiting.


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