Intense reproductive competition often continues long after animals finish mating. In many species, sperm from one male compete with those from others to find and fertilize oocytes. Since this competition occurs inside the female reproductive tract, she often influences the outcome through physical or chemical factors, leading to cryptic female choice. Finally, traits that help males compete with each other are sometimes harmful to females, and female countermeasures may thwart the interests of males, which can lead to an arms race between the sexes known as sexually antagonistic coevolution. New studies from Caenorhabditis nematodes suggest that males compete with each other by producing sperm that migrate aggressively and that these sperm may be more likely to win access to oocytes. However, one byproduct of this competition appears to be an increased probability that these sperm will go astray, invading the ovary, prematurely activating oocytes, and sometimes crossing basement membranes and leaving the gonad altogether. These harmful effects are sometimes observed in crosses between animals of the same species but are most easily detected in interspecies crosses, leading to dramatically lowered fitness, presumably because the competitiveness of the sperm and the associated female countermeasures are not precisely matched. This mismatch is most obvious in crosses involving individuals from androdioecious species (which have both hermaphrodites and males), as predicted by the lower levels of sperm competition these species experience. These results suggest a striking example of sexually antagonistic coevolution and dramatically expand the value of nematodes as a laboratory system for studying postcopulatory interactions.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)