Genetic compatibility underlies benefits of mate choice in an external fertilizer

Authors: J David Aguirre, Mark W Blows, and Dustin J Marshall

Published in: The American Naturalist, volume 187, number 5 (May 2016)


Mate choice is a common feature of sexually reproducing species. In sessile or sedentary external fertilizers, however, direct interactions between reproductive partners are minimal, and instead mate recognition and choice must occur at the level of gametes.

It is common for some sperm and egg combinations to have higher fertilization success than others, but it remains unclear whether differences in fertilization reflect gamete-level mate choice (GMC) for paternal quality or parental compatibility.

Here, we examine the mechanisms underlying GMC in an externally fertilizing ascidian. A manipulative mate-choice assay confirmed that offspring viability was greater in clutches where we allowed GMC than in clutches where we precluded GMC. A complementary quantitative genetic experiment then revealed that paternal quality effects were generally weaker than parental compatibility effects, particularly for the trait combination underlying the benefits of GMC.

Overall, our data suggest that gametes that are more compatible at fertilization produce more viable offspring than gametes that are less compatible at fertilization. Therefore, although the regalia we typically associate with sexual selection are absent in external fertilizers, mechanisms that allow females to bias fertilization in favor of some males over others produce significant fitness benefits in organisms reproducing via the ancestral strategy.


Aguirre, JD, Blows MW, Marshall DJ (2016) Genetic compatibility underlies benefits of mate choice in an external fertiliser. The American Naturalist, 187(5) DOI: 10.1086/685892 PDF 672 KB