Female Sea Urchins Hedge Their Bets In Mating Game

Female sea urchins that have many mates also have higher offspring survival rates.

AsianScientist (Nov. 24, 2014) – Sleeping around pays off for females, at least for sea urchins. The paper documenting these findings has been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Researchers at The University of Western Australia’s (UWA) Center for Evolutionary Biology, in collaboration with an investigator at Kagawa University, Japan, found that the main advantage of multiple mating for females (polyandry) is an increased survival rate amongst offspring—between five and 12 percent higher—compared to when females mate with a single male.

Lead author, UWA’s Assistant Professor Paco Garcia-Gonzalez said the team used sea urchins to evaluate the benefits that females gain from polyandry.

“Sea urchins are easily induced to spawn thousands of gametes, which provide unprecedented control over in vitro fertilizations,” Prof. Garcia-Gonzalez said. “Another advantage of using sea urchins is that this model system makes it possible to simulate a study over many generations to determine whether any benefits of polyandry persist.”

“In this way, we were able to determine whether any observed benefits of polyandry depend on the ability of females to effectively ‘hedge their bets’ in their choice of the most suitable males,” he said.

The researchers split thousands of captive sea urchin eggs into batches and evaluated the results when some batches were exposed to the sperm of single males compared to other batches exposed to the sperm of three males. The team examined the results over thousands of zygotes (cells formed by the union of egg and sperm) and across several successive simulated ‘generations’.

They found that by ‘hedging their bets’, or protecting themselves from making a wrong mating choice, female sea urchins exhibited enhanced reproductive fitness.

“Polyandry is a widespread behavior known to have far-reaching evolutionary and ecological implications,” Prof. Garcia-Gonzalez said. “Our study provides tantalizing insights into the possible evolutionary origins of this behavior.”

The article can be found at: Garcia-Gonzalez et al. (2014) Mating Portfolios: Bet-hedging, Sexual Selection and Female Multiple Mating.


Source: University of Western Australia; Photo: Maureen/Flickr/CC.
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