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J Exp Biol. 2009 Oct 1;212(19):3164-73. doi: 10.1242/jeb.030031.

Evidence for age-dependent mating strategies in the simultaneous hermaphrodite snail, Lymnaea stagnalis (L.).

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Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, T2N 1N4 Canada.


In many mating systems female reproductive capacity is a limiting resource over which males will compete. As a consequence, males and females have usually different fitness optimization strategies which may give rise to sexual conflict. Since simultaneous hermaphrodites have, in theory, the option to mate as male or as female at any time, conflict will occur if partners insist in taking the same role. Several lines of evidence exists that body size influences gender choice. However, growth in many invertebrates is indeterminate and therefore age is generally a covariant of size. We therefore investigated the effect of age on mating choices in the simultaneous hermaphrodite Lymnaea stagnalis. Using fully sexually mature animals sampled from three different age groups we show that copulation frequency declines with age. Specifically, in age-matched couples the frequency of primary and reciprocal copulations declines with age. Furthermore, the younger partner tends to mate as male with greater probability in couples of unequal age. Size was never a factor in the sex role preference of Lymnaea. Thus, young Lymnaea always attempt to copulate as male independent of the age of their partner, whereas senior snails act primarily as female. The sex role choices of middle-aged snails appear to depend on their partner's age. In addition, we demonstrate that the likelihood that an animal will copulate as male is not correlated with prostate gland size but correlates with the level of afferent electrical activity recorded in the nerve originating in the prostate gland. Together, our results indicate the existence of an age- and not size-dependent mating system in Lymnaea.

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