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A cost of Wolbachia–induced sex reversal and female–biased sex ratios: decrease in female fertility after sperm depletion in a terrestrial isopod

Thierry Rigaud, Jérôme Moreau

Abstract

A number of parasites are vertically transmitted to new host generations via female eggs. In such cases, host reproduction is an intimate component of parasite fitness and no cost of the infection on host reproduction is expected to evolve. A number of these parasites distort host sex ratios towards females, thereby increasing either parasite fitness or the proportion of the host that transmit the parasite. In terrestrial isopods (woodlice), Wolbachia bacteria are responsible for sex reversion and female–biased sex ratios, changing genetic males into functional neo–females. Although sex ratio distortion is a powerful means for parasites to increase in frequency in host populations, it also has potential consequences on host biology, which may, in turn, have consequences for parasite prevalence. We used the woodlouse Armadillidium vulgare to test whether the interaction between Wolbachia infection and the resulting excess of females would limit female fertility through the reduction in sperm number that they receive from males. We showed that multiple male mating induces sperm depletion, and that this sperm depletion affects fertility only in infected females. This decrease in fertility, associated with male mate choice, may limit the spread of Wolbachia infections in host populations.

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