Unravelling anisogamy: egg size and ejaculate size mediate selection on morphology in free-swimming sperm

Authors: Keyne Monro and Dustin J Marshall

Published in: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, volume 283, issue 1834 (July 2016)


Gamete dimorphism (anisogamy) defines the sexes in most multicellular organisms.

Theoretical explanations for its maintenance usually emphasize the size-related selection pressures of sperm competition and zygote survival, assuming that fertilization of all eggs precludes selection for phenotypes that enhance fertility. In external fertilizers, however, fertilization is often incomplete due to sperm limitation, and the risk of polyspermy weakens theadvantage of high sperm numbers that is predicted to limit sperm size, allowing alternative selection pressures to target free-swimming sperm.

We asked whether egg size and ejaculate size mediate selection on the free-swimming sperm of Galeolaria caespitosa, a marine tubeworm with external fertilization, by comparing relationships between sperm morphology and male fertility across manipulations of egg size and sperm density.

Our results suggest that selection pressures exerted by these factors may aid the maintenance of anisogamy in external fertilizers by limiting the adaptive value of larger sperm in the absence of competition. In doing so, our study offers a more complete explanation for the stability of anisogamy across the range of sperm environments typical of this mating system and identifies new potential for the sexes to coevolve via mutual selection pressures exerted by gametes at fertilization.


Monro K, Marshall DJ (2016) Unravelling anisogamy: egg size and ejaculate size mediate selection on morphology in free-swimming sperm, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 283:1834 PDF 2.7 MB doi:10.1098/rspb.2016.0671

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