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In the dusky pipefish Syngnathus floridae, like other species in the family Syngnathidae, 'pregnant' males provide all post-zygotic care. Male pregnancy has interesting implications for sexual selection theory and the evolution of mating systems. Here, we employ microsatellite markers to describe the genetic mating system of S. floridae, compare the outcome with a previous report of genetic polyandry for the Gulf pipefish S. scovelli, and consider possible associations between the mating system and degree of sexual dimorphism in these species. Twenty-two pregnant male dusky pipefish from one locale in the northern Gulf of Mexico were analyzed genetically, together with subsamples of 42 embryos from each male's brood pouch. Adult females also were assayed. The genotypes observed in these samples document that cuckoldry by males did not occur; males often receive eggs from multiple females during the course of a pregnancy (six males had one mate each, 13 had two mates, and three had three mates); embryos from different females are segregated spatially within a male's brood pouch; and a female's clutch of eggs often is divided among more than one male. Thus, the genetic mating system of the dusky pipefish is best described as polygynandrous. The genetic results for S. floridae and S. scovelli are consistent with a simple model of sexual selection which predicts that for sex role-reversed organisms, species with greater degrees of sexual dimorphism are more highly polyandrous.

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