Something Darwin didn't know about barnacles: spermcast mating in a common stalked species

Marjan Barazandeh, Corey S. Davis, Christopher J. Neufeld, David W. Coltman, A. Richard Palmer

Abstract

Most free-living barnacles are hermaphroditic, and eggs are presumed to be fertilized either by pseudo-copulation or self-fertilization. Although the common northeast Pacific intertidal gooseneck barnacle, Pollicipes polymerus, is believed only to cross-fertilize, some isolated individuals well outside penis range nonetheless bear fertilized eggs. They must therefore either self-fertilize or—contrary to all prior expectations about barnacle mating—obtain sperm from the water. To test these alternative hypotheses, we collected isolated individuals bearing egg masses, as well as isolated pairs where at least one parent carried egg masses. Using 16 single nucleotide polymorphism markers, we confirmed that a high percentage of eggs were fertilized with sperm captured from the water. Sperm capture occurred in 100 per cent of isolated individuals and, remarkably, even in 24 per cent of individuals that had an adjacent partner. Replicate subsamples of individual egg masses confirmed that eggs fertilized by captured sperm occurred throughout the egg mass. Sperm capture may therefore be a common supplement to pseudo-copulation in this species. These observations (i) overturn over a century of beliefs about what barnacles can (or cannot) do in terms of sperm transfer, (ii) raise doubts about prior claims of self-fertilization in barnacles, (iii) raise interesting questions about the capacity for sperm capture in other species (particularly those with short penises), and (iv) show, we believe for the first time, that spermcast mating can occur in an aquatic arthropod.

  • Received December 6, 2012.
  • Accepted December 20, 2012.
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