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Sperm competition drives the evolution of suicidal reproduction in mammals


Fisher, DO and Dickman, CR and Jones, ME and Blomberg, SP, Sperm competition drives the evolution of suicidal reproduction in mammals, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110, (44) pp. 17910-17914. ISSN 0027-8424 (2013) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright 2013 PNAS

DOI: doi:10.1073/pnas.1310691110


Suicidal reproduction (semelparity) has evolved in only four genera of mammals. In these insectivorous marsupials, all males die after mating, when failure of the corticosteroid feedback mechanism elevates stress hormone levels during the mating season and causes lethal immune system collapse (die-off). We quantitatively test and resolve the evolutionary causes of this surprising and extreme life history strategy. We show that as marsupial predators in Australia, South America, and Papua New Guinea diversified into higher latitudes, seasonal predictability in abundance of their arthropod prey increased in multiple habitats. More-predictable prey peaks were associated with shorter annual breeding seasons, consistent with the suggestion that females accrue fitness benefits by timing peak energy demands of reproduction to coincide with maximum food abundance. We demonstrate that short mating seasons intensified reproductive competition between males, increasing male energy investment in copulations and reducing male postmating survival. However, predictability of annual prey cycles alone does not explain suicidal reproduction, because unlike insect abundance, peak ovulation dates in semelparous species are often synchronized to the day among years, triggered by a species-specific rate of change of photoperiod. Among species with low postmating male survival, we show that those with suicidal reproduction have shorter mating seasons and larger testes relative to body size. This indicates that lethal effort is adaptive in males because females escalate sperm competition by further shortening and synchronizing the annual mating period and mating promiscuously. We conclude that precopulatory sexual selection by females favored the evolution of suicidal reproduction in mammals.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Dasyuridae, Didelphidae, life history trade off, seasonality, senescence
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Evolutionary biology
Research Field:Life histories
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Terrestrial biodiversity
UTAS Author:Jones, ME (Professor Menna Jones)
ID Code:89242
Year Published:2013
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (FT100100250)
Web of Science® Times Cited:67
Deposited By:Zoology
Deposited On:2014-02-27
Last Modified:2017-11-01

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