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Interactions among eggs and sperm are often assumed to generate intraspecific variation in reproductive fitness, but the specific gamete-level mechanisms underlying competitive fertilization success remain elusive in most species. Sperm chemotaxis–the attraction of sperm by egg-derived chemicals—is a ubiquitous form of gamete signaling, occurring throughout the animal and plant kingdoms. The chemical cues released by eggs are known to act at the interspecific level (e.g., facilitating species recognition),but recent studies have suggested that they could have roles at the intraspecific level by moderating sperm competition. Here, we exploit the experimental tractability of a broadcast spawning marine invertebrate to test this putative mechanism of gamete-level sexual selection. We use a fluorescently labeled mitochondrial dye in mussels to track the real-time success of sperm as they compete to fertilize eggs, and provide the first direct evidence in any species that competitive fertilization success is moderated by differential sperm chemotaxis. Furthermore, our data are consistent with the idea that egg chemoattractants selectively attract ejaculates from genetically compatible males, based on relationships inferred from both nuclear and mitochondrial genetic markers.These findings for a species that exhibits the ancestral reproductive strategy of broadcast spawning have important implications for the numerous species that also rely on egg chemoattractants to attract sperm, including humans, and have potentially important implications for our understanding of the evolutionary cascade of sexual selection.
Fertilization success, genetic relatedness and mitochondrial lineage estimates from competitive sperm chemotaxis experiment