The evolution of reproductive phenology in broadcast spawners and the maintenance of sexually antagonistic polymorphism

Authors: , and Tim Connallon

Published in: The American Naturalist, volume 189, number 2 (February 2017)


Reproductive phenology is a crucial life-history trait that evolves in response to external environmental conditions and frequency- and density-dependent interactions within species.

Broadcast spawners — which represent a large fraction of aquatic biodiversity — evolve phenologies that balance strong density-dependent fertilization success against abiotic environmental conditions that are required for successful reproduction. The overall balance between these processes may be particularly complex in dioecious species, where selection on reproductive timing potentially differs between the sexes.

Here, we develop a population genetic model of reproductive phenology in a dioecious broadcast spawning species and show that environmental variability and density-dependent fertilization dynamics naturally give rise to profound sex differences in selection on gamete release strategies.

The frequency-dependent nature of sperm competition generates sexually antagonistic selection on reproductive timing and facilitates the maintenance of genetic variation in phenological traits. Selection in females favors monomorphic spawning phenologies that maximize net fertilization success and offspring survival across environmental conditions, whereas selection in males often favors polymorphic phenologies that are primarily shaped by sperm competition.

Our model helps explain several well-documented empirical observations in aquatic species, including high intraspecific variance of reproductive phenologies, sex-specific spawning phenologies, and spawning during environmentally suboptimal times.


Olito C, Marshall DJ, Connallon T (2017) The evolution of reproductive phenology in broadcast spawners and the maintenance of sexually antagonistic polymorphism, The American Naturalist, 189(2) PDF 717 KB, doi:10.1086/690010