Sexual Conflict: Males with Highest Mating Success Convey the Lowest Fertilization Benefits to Females

Robert R. Warner, Douglas Y. Shapiro, Andrea Marcanato, Christopher W. Petersen


In natural populations of a coral reef fish (the bluehead wrasse, Thalassoma bifasciatum), males with the highest daily mating success produce the fewest sperm per mating, and this is reflected in significantly lower fertilization rates. The average amount released by males in pair-mating was 3.3 $\times $ 10$^{6}$ spermatozoa, resulting in a fertilization rate of 96%. Sperm released per spawn declined with increasing mating success, so that females mating with the most successful males had less than 93% of their eggs fertilized. It is unlikely that high mating-success males are physiologically incapable of increasing sperm production, because younger males with different mating strategies have absolutely larger testes and higher daily sperm output. Feeding experiments suggest that high-success males are diverting energy from gamete production to other fitness-enhancing activities such as mate guarding. Females incur the cost of low sperm release by having fewer of their eggs fertilized. There are no obvious compensatory benefits to females from mating with high-success males.

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