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J Insect Physiol. 2010 Sep;56(9):1332-40. doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2010.04.014. Epub 2010 May 4.

Hold on: females modulate sperm depletion from storage sites in the fly Drosophila melanogaster.

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Department of Biology, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN 56082, USA.


Among many species of insects, females gain fitness benefits by producing numerous offspring. Yet actions related to producing numerous offspring such as mating with multiple males, producing oocytes and placing offspring in sub-optimal environments incur costs. Females can decrease the magnitude of these costs by retaining gametes when suitable oviposition sites are absent. We used the pomace fly, Drosophila melanogaster, to explore how the availability of fresh feeding/oviposition medium influenced female fitness via changes in offspring survivorship and the modulation of gamete release. Availability of fresh medium affected the absolute number and temporal production of offspring. This outcome was attributable to both decreased larval survival under crowded conditions and to female modulation of gamete release. Direct examination of the number of sperm retained among the different female storage organs revealed that females 'hold on' to sperm, retaining more sperm in storage, disproportionately within the spermathecae, when exposed infrequently to fresh medium. Despite this retention, females with lower rates of storage depletion exhibited decreased sperm use efficiency shortly after mating. This study provides direct evidence that females influence the rate of sperm depletion from specific storage sites in a way that can affect both female and male fitness. The possible adaptive significance of selective gamete utilization by female Drosophila includes lowering costs associated with frequent remating and larval overcrowding when oviposition sites are limiting, as well as potentially influencing paternity when females store sperm from multiple males.

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