Royal Society Publishing

Polyandry produces sexy sons at the cost of daughters in red flour beetles

Aditi Pai, Guiyun Yan


Female mating with multiple males within a single fertile period is a common phenomenon in the animal kingdom. Female insects are particularly promiscuous. It is not clear why females mate with multiple partners despite several potential costs, such as expenditure of time and energy, reduced lifespan, risk of predation and contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Female red flour beetles (Tribolium castaneum) obtain sufficient sperm from a single insemination to retain fertility for several months. Nonetheless they copulate repeatedly within minutes with different males despite no direct fitness benefits from this behaviour. One hypothesis is that females mate with multiple partners to provide indirect benefits via enhanced offspring fitness. To test this hypothesis, we compared the relative fitness of F1 offspring from females mated with single males and multiple males (2, 4, 8, or 16 partners), under the condition of relatively high intraspecific competition. We found that a female mating with 16 males enhanced the relative fitness of F1 males (in two out of three trials) but reduced F1 female's fitness (in two independent trials) in comparison with singly mated females. We also determined whether several important fitness correlates were affected by polyandry. We found that F1 males from mothers with 16 partners inseminated more females than F1 males from mothers with a single partner. The viability of the eggs sired or produced by F1 males and females from highly polyandrous mothers was also increased under conditions of low intra–specific competition. Thus, the effects of polyandry on F1 offspring fitness depend on environmental conditions. Our results demonstrated a fitness trade–off between male and female offspring from polyandrous mothers in a competitive environment. The mechanisms and biological significance of this unique phenomenon are discussed.

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